Sugababes - 'The Lost Tapes'
26th December 2022
Words: Christopher Richmond
It’s been a bumpy road for Mutya, Keisha and Siobhan. Their history as a band is long and tumultuous: they formed the original lineup of Sugababes as teenagers before each individually departing the group one by one until none of them were left, leaving the band without any of its founding players. They reunited in 2012 under the name MKS, a name derived from their initials and which felt like a pointed statement about the irreplaceability of the original lineup, before they were granted full use of the Sugababes name in 2019. A DJ Spoony cover of ‘Flowers’ followed, as well as a re-release of their debut album, culminating in a spectacular fireworks-laden headline performance at London’s Mighty Hoopla Festival to fully establish the beloved band’s return. They spent the rest of the year on the festival circuit, a circuit which notably included a rapturous performance at Glastonbury Festival and which required their tent to be shut down due to the sheer volume of people attempting to catch a glimpse of the fabled trio, before eventually embarking on their own headline tour. It’s been a golden year for the Sugababes, one of the finest and most accomplished on record, and it’s clear in every interview and performance they’ve given that Mutya, Keisha and Siobhan are gleefully delighting in everything that’s happened. It’s been a comeback to justify the existence of comebacks - except it was missing one thing, or at least it was up until recently: new music.
On December 24th, the girls announced the release of a new studio album, the eighth Sugababes album, and the second featuring the original lineup, to be released Beyoncé-style that very same day. It was called The Lost Tapes. Its tracks were written and recorded in the MKS era all those years ago alongside superstar producers and songwriters including MNEK, Blood Orange, Sia, Cameron McVey, Naughty Boy and Biffco, but due to various label nonsense and fuckery, have never been officially released - until now. The album has existed in Sugbabes lore for years, the question of its official release lingering over the band’s heads for almost a decade, and the music that it held dissolving into myth and legend. The fact that it has finally been released is nothing short of a triumph - and what a triumphant album it is.
One thing about Sugababes: their albums were legitimately good. They were complete bodies of work whose quality never wavered, and who never suffered from the dreaded three-singles-and-the-rest-filler trope that inflicted countless pop albums of the same era - The Lost Tapes is no different. It extracts elements from each of their previous releases, and repurposes them into something entirely new. ‘Summer Of 99,’ arguably the biggest and most anthemic track on the collection, recalls ‘About You Now’ in how unashamedly it embraces maximalist California-pop. ‘Love Me Hard’ and ‘I Lay Down’ are vintage Sugababes mid-tempos which sit comfortably alongside the band’s best ever tracks. ‘Back In The Day’ fits in a collection with ‘Maya’ and ‘Follow Me Home’ in its delicate introspectiveness. There’s a lot to be found on The Lost Tapes which will surely satisfy fans of the classic Sugababes fusion of pop and R&B.
But there’s lots of new stuff as well. With its scratchy production and hypnotising repetition, ‘Drum’ is experimental and left-from-centre in a way that feels totally fresh for the girls, whilst ‘No Regrets’ exhilarates with its massive chorus and thrashing drums. ‘Victory’ indulges dramatically in 2010s dubstep-adjacent synths, and ‘Today’ reveals the album’s original years of creation with its Rudimental-esque production.
It’s an incredibly introspective release. The lyrics are all about nostalgia and looking to the past, reflecting on the paths that have led the women to where they are now. ‘Summer Of 99’ mythologises the girls’ final summer of normalcy before the rollercoaster that was life in the Sugababes began, whilst ‘Back In The Day’ acknowledges the unusual dichotomy of spending their teenage years in the studio and the strange sadness that comes with accepting a lost childhood. ‘I’m Alright,’ one of the album’s highlights, is the culmination of these feelings, a bold and steely declaration that despite everything, they’re stronger than they’ve ever been. It’s a genuinely touching listen knowing the years of tumult that have informed its existence.
But the thematic thread of the album, the thing that ties it all together, is the vocals. Mutya, Keisha and Siobhan are exceptionally talented vocalists. Keisha is all-powerful with her ceaselessly magnetic voice, mightily providing those classic Keisha ad-libs at the end of each song, whilst the soulful depth of Mutya’s vocal brings a stirring gravity to the tracks. And what a delight it is to finally hear Siobhan Donaghy’s voice on record after all these years, a voice unheard in any official capacity since the release of her stunning solo album Ghosts back in 2007 - go and seek it out if you haven’t already, because it’s one of the most underrated British alt-pop albums of the 2000s. The girls are breathtaking separately, each of them delivering their verses with a brilliantly gentle confidence, but when they intertwine on the choruses, their voices fusing together to create a stunning chorus of harmony, sparks fly. When these women sing together, it’s like capturing lightning in a bottle. It’s a completely unbeatable sound, a sound which breathes life and feeling and emotion into every lyric. It’s a joy to behold - what a privilege it is to hear the choir that is created when these women sing together.
It’s funny how things work out. There’s a timeline where this collection was released in 2013 under the MKS moniker - but we don’t live in that timeline. Because we live in this timeline, and because of everything that’s happened, the album is being released now, and it’s being released under the Sugababes name, as it should be. It’s as if it was all meant to be, as if everything happened for a reason, like a pop-deity out there knew that this was never meant to be the first MKS album - it was meant to be the eighth Sugababes album. Because it is the eighth Sugababes album, officially and legally, and what an addition to the collection it is.