From the length of their absence from these pages, it would have been tempting to see Girls Aloud as a bust flush, an act gone the same way as virtually every talent show winning turn this decade has gone; i.e. the way of obscurity after a number one debut single. But not a bit of it; with more to come as the decade wore on, as well as a series of solo singles (albeit to lesser and even lesser effect), Girls Aloud would prove themselves to be an exception to the rule. And even if there have been a dearth of number ones from them to date, then the stats show their last five singles were all top three hits, and that's not to be sneezed at
Originally a 1994 hit for The Pretenders, 'I'll Stand By You' is a rock power ballad, the type of which it's hard to imagine the 1979 version of the band ever recording. After all, Chrissie Hynde has never been the grandstanding balladeer of a Cher or Bonnie Tyler, but in a fair trade off, her husky tremolo invested the "Nothing you confess could make me love you less" lyirc with a sincerity that meant it's hard to to anything but believe her, which isn't something I'm generally able to say about anything Ms Tyler wraps her lungs around. Perhaps predictably, Girls Aloud don't do anything radical to the blueprint bar turn everything up one louder, a move that goes some way to compensating the diluting effect splitting the first person lyric between five different voices has on the "I'll stand by you" message ("We'll stand by you" maybe?), which is to water it down to a series of platitudes voiced in a way that never (either singular or plural) come close to matching the re-assuring hug of Hynde's original vocal.
But then maybe it was never meant to; this 'I'll Stand By You' was the offical 2004 Children In Need chairty single, a context that suggests that whilst Hynde sang "Don’t hold it all inside, come on and talk to me now" to a friend in need, the Girls Aloud are ostensibly addressing a different audience altogether. And in that context, Hynde's lyric casts the girls as quasi saviours delivering a promise ("Take me in, into your darkest hour, and I’ll never desert you") with a troubling, borderline patronising disparity between what it offers and what the girls could actually deliver. And it's troubling/borderline patronising not least because the accompanying video descends into a soft focus, poutiest pout glamour contest between the girls and the camera lens - trading on misery? Surely not? Well probably not anyway - I mean, I doubt anybody involved in this was looking any further than offering some vague yet contextually apt words of 'you're not alone' comfort, though whether the thoughtlessness as to the choice of song makes the result better or worse I'll leave for you to decide.
And so in getting back to 'I'll Stand By You' just as a song, I can report that, by using the original as such a faithful guide, Girls Aloud have no more of a clue as to how to bring the song to a close than The Pretenders did; both allow it to break down into random shifts of key and tempo that desperately peer into every corner for a natural resolution that never comes until the recurring "I'll stand by you" fades into the ether from the mouth of a person moving further away rather than closer. Can't blame Girls Aloud for that I guess. But what I can blame them for is the vague feeling of disappointment that the once sparky would be sound of the underground is now reduced to peddling unimaginative AOR karaoke this early in their career, be it for charity or not.