The steampunk genre is all about historical discontinuity, about universes where some event happened at the wrong time or in the wrong way, the invention of computers in the 19th century, or a post-WWII British space program displacing NASA. Something similar might explain Girls Aloud; they certainly don’t sound like anything from our universe. In our world, no-one would ever make a record like “Revolution in the Head,” with its cod-Jamaican accents, hardcore bassline, dub drums, and, erm, cor anglais; but perhaps in a parallel universe where “On a Ragga Tip” became the template for all subsequent pop music, records like this are normal, although that still wouldn’t explain the surprisingly Maoist lyrics (“Revolution in the head don’t count for nothing / you’ve got to beat the past / … / you’ve got to move the mass”). Likewise, in a universe where britpop never pushed post-acid-house dance-pop out of the charts, perhaps all records would be, like “Live in the Country,” drum and bass remixes of “The Key the Secret” with added farmyard noises (if you’re really looking for Maoist influences, you might see the farmyard noises as a coded reference to Lin Biaoism).
The other steampunk feature of Girls Aloud is the way in which so many of their best records are unwieldly Heath-Robinson contraptions, like “Miss You Bow Wow,” which seems to be welded together from at least eight different tracks. The track also showcases their knack for lyrics that don’t really make sense, and yet seem somehow evocative: what does “20 minutes in the hotel bar / then I slip into your girlfriends jeans” mean? Was she hanging around the bar in her underwear? Is she seducing the girlfriend? There are some other great turns of phrase on “Untouchable,” including the line I used as the title of this post: “Without any meaning / we’re just flesh and bone / like beautiful robots dancing alone” (which I first heard as “we’re just getting bored”; I probably don’t need to say that I find the idea of bored, beautiful, lonely robots highly congenial). I also see something rather Badiouvian in the closing lines of the album: “We want a party but we’ve got no love.”