The Sugababes were supposed to be taking a year off.
After scoring one of the biggest-selling singles of 2007, About You Now, and embarking on their largest tour to date, they were ready for some time alone.
For Keisha Buchanan, especially, it would have been a well-deserved break.
The 23-year-old has weathered two changes in line-up and one in record company since the pop trio scored their first hit, Overload, eight years ago.
Bandmate Heidi Range has just moved in with her long-term boyfriend, TV presenter Dave Berry, while Amelle Berrabah's feet have barely touched the ground since she was drafted in to replace Mutya Buena in 2005.
So why are they back so soon with a new single, Girls, and a sixth album, Catfights and Spotlights?
"We told a lot of our fans we were going away, so it's kind of embarrassing," admits Buchanan.
"We were going to take a year off," she adds, "but we had this single and we thought we might as well keep the ball rolling."
But making the album, and getting it ready for in time for the Christmas sales peak, put the group under severe pressure.
"It was literally recorded in a couple of weeks, in between the festivals, and I had a lot of falling out with the record company," she says.
"They were like 'you've got to be in there, you've got to write', but if you don't feel creative on the day, you just can't do it."
Berrabah, 24, admits the trio "hardly saw each other" during the recording process.
"There wasn't enough time," Buchanan confirms.
"When I was in the studio, someone else would be trying to start a new idea somewhere else."
'Electro pop ban'
The group say the new record is something of a departure - with a "live band feel" and a "retro cool soul" sound.
So they are most displeased when I suggest that Girls, an upbeat dance track based around a sample from Ernie K Doe's Here Come The Girls, is a perfect piece of hen-night handbag pop.
"I don't see Girls as being a pop track because the sample was a soul song," scolds Buchanan.
"It only comes across like that because it's a girl band singing it."
"We didn't want to go down the pop route on this album," she adds, "and that's the reason we banned electro pop."
I think every single awards show should be voted for by the public - not five blokes who make a decision on who they think should win. It's just ridiculous
"It's like 'spot the pop song'," confirms Berrabah.
If they seem wary of their pop background, it's somewhat understandable.
Despite their enviable run of chart success, they have only ever won one Brit award - in the now-abandoned best dance category.
"I don't really like the Brits," says Berrabah. "It's all politics."
"I think every single awards show should be voted for by the public - not five blokes who make a decision on who they think should win. It's just ridiculous."
"It's annoying and it's discouraging," adds Buchanan. "It makes you feel like you're doing all this for nothing."
'Bigger than Girls Aloud'
One thing the trio can, and do, take pride in, however, is their sales record. The artwork for the new single boasts that the Sugababes are the "best-selling girl band of the 21st Century".
Their closest rivals are Girls Aloud - who have largely failed to make an impact abroad, a point which Buchanan is keen to drive home.
"Let's just set the record straight. We sell a lot more records than Girls Aloud," she says.
"I get asked a lot, 'aren't they a bigger band than you?'
"Well, no. They're not."
She stresses there is no bad blood between the groups - but the comparative lack of recognition is clearly a thorn in her side.
The Sugababes say they are very different to chart rivals Girls Aloud
"All of their records have gone top 10, which is something we don't have," she observes, "but we have longevity, we write our own stuff and we've sold more records."
"We just want to be known for our music," confirms Berrabah, diplomatically.
"When we got a review that said we put on a good performance at the Isle Of Wight Festival, it put a smile on my face for a month.
Buchanan jumps in again: "And that's better for us than to be in the latest magazine."
Nonetheless, the Sugababes have dipped their toes into the murky waters of celebrity in recent months. Buchanan has signed a deal to model glasses for a German firm, while Range appeared on Celebrity Mr & Mrs over the summer.
Berrabah has had a rougher ride in the tabloids, who made a big deal of her two arrests (the first time she was acquitted, on the second it turned out she had not been in town at the time of the alleged incident).
There have also been a series of revelations about her boyfriend Freddie Fuller, who was falsely accused of rape by Berrabah's sister in early 2007 and then fell victim to a near-fatal machete attack at the end of last year.
In 2005 Mutya Buena (centre) left and was replaced by Amelle Berrabah
She refuses to be drawn on any of these subjects, but admits it all fed into her writing on Catfights and Spotlights.
"I've had it in my head, to be honest," she says.
"There's a song on the album called Beware and I had someone on my mind while writing that."
Berrabah finds writing to be a healthy outlet for her emotions, and professes to be "excited" by the creative process.
The group are already planning their seventh album, to be recorded at a more leisurely pace next year.
"We'd like to work with Gnarls Barkley, Andre 3000 [from Outkast], and we already had plans to work with Timbaland on the new record," says Buchanan.
Berrabah adds: "This record was done in such a short period of time that when we wanted to work with someone, it depended on their schedule being empty at the right time.
"If we do the next album slowly, it'll be quite nice to actually have time to do that."
Girls is out now on Island Records. Catfights and Spotlights is released on 20 October.
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