We Brits have a real soft spot for losers. We really do. Not so much in the Morrissey-wailing-in-his-bed-sit sense, but in terms of plucky grafters who try their best but are just not quite good enough.
Only Britain would celebrate Frank Bruno as a sporting hero. Upbeat, charming and crap at boxing. This was a man whose tactics involved not showering for a week before a bout, so he could use his body odor as a weapon. And repeatedly, predictably, he got his head kicked in by Mike Tyson. Yet we loved him. Bulldog spirit. Never-say-die attitude. Doesn't matter if you're not good enough. It affects all our sporting endeavors -- witness our discomfort when we actually win something.
This cultural idiosyncrasy is the reason for Liberty X; they are the Frank Bruno of the pop world. Now here it is: Liberty X are made up of the five "talents" who lost the final of the original Popstars show. They are not even the best which that ghastly trendsetter of a show could spawn; they are the dregs.
"Aaah, but didn't they try their best," the British public cooed. And in a mind-boggling twist of fate, Liberty X are not only still around, but have attained some form of credibility. The winners of Popstars, Hearsay, are long gone. They had their couple of singles and then, thankfully, split. But Liberty X were picked up by V2, and they just keep on getting bigger.
This could never, never have happened anywhere in the world but the UK. And now, so much time has elapsed, that people are starting to forget where they came from. Ludicrously, they have been granted a US release, and their singles are still selling well in the UK.
On Thinking It Over, the real work has been done behind the scenes. Catchy songs have been written. "Looks" have been carefully thought through. Promotion has been handled patiently and with an impeccable sense of timing. Thinking It Over has been well planned.
The key trick has been the appropriation of the various fashionable mainstream genres that greeted the UK garage hangover. The general sway towards R'n'B was easy to chart, but Liberty X also tap into the '80s revival, Latin rhythms, and even retain some of the flourishes of the garage scene.
"Just a Little" and "Got to Have Your Love" have been big singles in the UK and are doubtless catchy pop songs. "Just a Little" is probably the best thing on the album; it has an insistent, unshakeable chorus and is a favourite on the dance-floors of crap nightclubs. "Got to Have Your Love" is a little more subtle, but that is down to it being a cover of Mantronix's 1990 hit of the same title.
"Thinking It Over" is a standard garage number that shows its obvious age. None of the group have a particularly distinctive voice, in the same way as their "look" is pretty uniform (they always seem to wear black). The use of Spanish guitar is a particularly naff touch.
The rest is thoroughly vapid. The "rapping" on the relentlessly chirpy and trite "No Clouds" has to be heard to be believed. "Holding on for You" is the required ballad (you can imagine). "Doin' It" is typical of the sub-Craig David pap that permeates the album, while "Saturday" would make a good smoke alarm.
It's not that the music is that bad. It's that it is so expertly targeted. Bland and spineless, Liberty X disguise themselves in the sham clothes of their more credible "peers". I'm not going to dip into the predictable rant on manufactured pop, but I do find it sinister that, like a "smart" bomb, a band can be so precisely targeted. As Hearsay crumbled, Liberty X slithered out unnoticed from beneath the rubble.
Surely, now that credibility (of sorts) has been attained, Liberty X will be recognized for their mediocrity and kindly slip out of my world. But hanging on the end of the album is the ominously titled track "Never Give Up". I take that as a personal threat.