“Hole In The Head” has three tough acts to follow. “Overload”, the one which perfectly introduced the Sugababes and their core idea – talk-to-the-hand teenage moodiness as a girl group operating system. “Freak Like Me”, the one (and the one-off) which brought them back from the edge of dissolution. And “Round Round”, the one which established, with an easy confidence, who the Sugababes were as a newly stable concern. 

So it’s predictable that “Hole In The Head” feels a little like “Round Round” part 2; and also predictable that it underwhelmed – this is Sugababes being an ordinary band, sounding like themselves, with no extraneous drama. It trailed an album whose title – Three – cemented this new normality: three girls, the same three girls as last time, with a third album, move along, nothing to see here.

And adding to the sense of a single slipping through the cracks is the way that the sound of “Hole” – that skiffle-y, schaffle-y, ska-ish acoustic big beat – now plays like Xenomania’s dry run for Girls Aloud’s “Love Machine”, a record whose sound fits its horny, chaotic vibe to perfection. “Hole In The Head” feels like an awkward older sister.

But listening to it, all this contextual stuff melts away: “Hole In The Head” is very good indeed. If it lacks a high concept, it makes up for it in a band and songwriters getting better at playing to each others’ strengths. The choppy briskness of “Hole” is a marvellous backing for the Sugababes’ soft, rapid, speak-singing, and the unshowy melody gives them opportunities for lovely turns of individual phrase – the emphatic hiss on “face” in “You’re in my face / Tell me what’s your name?” is a particular favourite. Other Xenomania acts might have offered a greater canvas for fucking around with song structure or working out pastiches – the Sugababes were the best singers they had to work with, and “Hole In The Head” makes sure to remember that.

The song suits the band’s persona, too – a break-up track built for dancing, a brush-off that centres itself on contempt and anger, not grief, a defiant rebuke to “Nothing Compares To U”. Kissing my ass, it turns out, compares to you. Favourably. And the song’s best moment, in its double-time kiss-off of a bridge, is also its most Sugababes-y: a two-line summary of the band’s appeal: “Just because you made me go “hooo” / Doesn’t mean I’ll put up with you.”

Score: 8

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