by Kim Taylor Bennett
It was a relief that 2011 came and went without an album from Cheryl Cole, née Tweedy, now just Cheryl. Although it scored Chezza her second Number One, following her 2009 debut ‘3 Words’, 2010’s ‘Messy Little Raindrops’ seemed rushed, made in a haze of malaria and heartbreak as she juggled judging on ‘The X Factor’ with recording.
Not that she’s had a moment’s respite since. Much of last year was consumed by her disastrous Stateside ‘X Factor’ sojourn and working on this latest LP with a raft of new collaborators.
Wisely, manager/Black Eyed Pea Will.i.am’s input is kept to a minimum – he pops up just once on the repetitive ‘Craziest Things’ which flaunts pop’s latest craze for a dampened dubstep bass whomp (see also ‘Love Killer’). Another recurrent dance-to-pop motif recurs thanks to Calvin Harris (who else?) and his migraine-inducing synths stabs (‘Call My Name’).
There is a slight tendency here for the 28-year-old to too closely recall her peers: ‘Sexy Den a Mutha’ is a Rihanna cast-off, ‘Ghetto Baby’, penned by Lana Del Rey, should have remained a demo and ‘Under the Sun’ is Lily Allen-lite, cheapened instantly to a Magaluf anthem by an inexplicable football chant refrain.
That said, ‘A Million Lights’ represents a shift in tempo and drops to a warmer vocal tone which clearly suits her. Closing tune ‘All Is Fair’ – featuring a lone beat and surprising harmonies – is a triumph. Largely, ballads and clunky romantic musings are dropped in favour of a ballsier attitude, particularly on zingy dance number ‘Girl in the Mirror’. When Cheryl spits ‘I loved you so much/But you never gave a fuck, so screw you,’ on the Wretch 32 collaboration, it makes you want to stand up and applaud.
When judged against her own back catalogue this record deserves three stars, but in the great pop pantheon, competing with titans like Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and even Katy Perry, Cheryl is still finding her feet.