Album: Cheryl Cole – “A Million Lights” (2012)

While enjoying several of her singles (of which there have been surprisingly few, now I think about it), I’ve only really tolerated Cheryl Cole’s (oh sorry, just Cheryl now) solo career. Mainly because I imagine this is the big roadblock in the way of a much-needed Girls Aloud comeback.

I’m a bit torn really, in contrast to seemingly lots of people, I like Cheryl. She was nice enough on X-Factor and seems a pretty grounded funny celebrity against a background of teen plebs like Pixie Lott and terrifying idiots from “The Only Way Is Essex”. But people love to hate, and despite this, her solo career appears to be going well. OK the album sales are looking shaky, but it’s paying the bills and at least the lead single have so far been capable of big opening sales.

After a successful debut album with several well-performing singles, her follow-up was pretty much scrapped as soon as the second single flopped. She returned a few months ago with another solo album, another big debut and another shaky follow-up. I wonder if they will write this album off so close to Christmas now? Then again, that long-rumoured Girls Aloud comeback is apparently imminent so all bets are off…

08 Under the sun – So here’s that ‘difficult’ second single, a bit of a change of pace from the all-guns-blazing debut, but it’s pretty catchy. Difficult to pigeonhole, maybe it’s trying to summon some of that offbeat pop sound that Girls Aloud did so effortlessly. Or maybe on a more basic level she’s testing the water in a more Olly Murs-centric market. Anyway it’s quite sweet, bounces along and has a nice strong chorus. Is she saying “go down on me?!”… well I never! Anyway it’s a shame it hasn’t done better, I quite like this.

09 Call my name – Now here’s that big comeback single, along with a rather spectacular performance on The Voice back in May (God, was it that long ago!?). Tight choreography and a modern dance tone to it. Can’t blame her for moving into a slightly dancier brand of what she was doing already, and it works well. She looked alarmingly like Cher Lloyd in the video but let’s look past that, shall we? Catchy and has a great 90s dance feel to it (I’m all over that), job well done.

06 Craziest things – Is this going to be the post-Ashley album? Perhaps not as the relationship at the heart of this song seems – at least for now – in the present tense. Oh is that will.i.am again? Why do they keep doing duets like they are a couple? It’s a bit of a basic dance-tinged urban track, maybe that’s dubstep, I don’t know what those crazy kids are listening to these days. She’s trying to be all edgy with the curse-words but they get all bleeped out anyway. Ker-azy! A bit of a drag.

07 Girl in the mirror – Dance beat is back, sounds familiar but I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s quite nice really, maybe it’s a bit like one of Calvin Harris’s older tracks. She’s such a complicated feisty character isn’t she? Well, we are led to believe that anyway, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. It’s not amazing but it ticks away quite nicely. None of these songs are very long, and I think that’s a good thing sometimes. It’s difficult to get bored of songs that average about 3 minutes.

07 A million lights – I like how this builds quietly into a bit of a power ballad. OK her lower register has never been amazing, but she carries it off well with minimal accompaniment. Again this reminds me of something I can’t quite place, hopefully not the chart poison single “The Flood” from the last album. Has a sense of drama about it but doesn’t quite get off the ground.

08 Screw You – Apparently being remixed as a third single to accompany her tell-all autobiography (you get those Xmas royalties Cheryl). This MUST be an Ashley song, right? It’s got a pretty good beat to it, and a bit of fire in it. It’s not exactly “Caught out there” (but what is?), but the accelerating bridges to the swaggering chorus work well. Ugh did I use the word ‘swaggering’? Wretch 32, one of the most disposable UK rap artists, continues to cause apathy, and his part is over pretty swiftly. It all hangs together pretty well actually, she might get this album campaign back on the road if she gets it right.

05 Love killer – Bland dance-tinged RnB time, and another jilted lover track. A bit of poor placement just after “Screw You” but never mind. This is the moment when it all feels a bit samey, and as expected the least worthy track so far turns out to be the longest on the album. How does that always happen?

08 Ghetto Baby – Now this must be good with a title like that, right? RIGHT? A surprisingly downtempo track, building into a pretty laid-back but grand-sounding and certainly American urban track. The verses are almost spoken-word but they actually work surprisingly well. I wrote this off a bit early, it’s not perfect or a killer track but certainly better than it seems on first glance.

07 Sexy Den A Mutha – What’s that now? This street-talk is going totally over my head. Swedish House Mafia’s copyright lawyers might prick their ears up at this one once the chorus kicks in. Not that it does the track any harm, with shades of the sound used in “Call my name”. Just a shame it’s mostly nonsense to my ears. It’s a decent song but a little lacking, where “Call my name” was jam-packed with production and conviction.

05 Mechanics of a heart – What a title! I bet whoever wrote this felt very pleased with themselves. Turns out it’s a co-write with Taio Cruz, that explains it. A bit plodding really, struggling to wring some significance out of a rather strained analogy. They seems to have tried for a bit of a ‘quiet storm’ production-wise but it’s really just a bit of a sluggish midtempo.

06 All is fair – How could we forget, she hasn’t addressed those HATERZ yet. I may have crossed off a line on my A-list celeb album cliche bingo sheet, hooray! She plays it subtle, with minimal production. In that sense it stands out in an album of slightly generic RnB, but it just doesn’t have the weight of much drama and doesn’t really go anywhere sadly. Never mind, eh?

06 Last One Standing – A pleasingly European-sounding dance track now, with her usual feisty language thrown on it. Takes a little while to get warmed up, and doesn’t quite reach anywhere near being a club banger, but for what it is, it’s not bad. But that’s about all I can say about it, the melody is nice enough to tick along, but it’s not really a memorable one.

Well that’s that. I feel like I’m being a bit harsh with her. I didn’t really expect anything dripping in personality, resentfully waiting for Girls Aloud to get back together and make some PROPER pop music. She has eyes on a more American sound, and that’s her prerogative, but I doubt it’s going to stand out much Stateside. Perhaps it’s best to focus a bit more on home soil?

I’m amazed is has a vaguely consistent sound at all, I realised that over the 12 tracks reviewed, I counted a total of 33 different co-writers and 11 different production teams, with only 3 co-writers managing an appearance on two songs (including Cheryl herself *eyebrow raised*). Luckily they are all aiming at the broadly generic dancey-urban sound that’s doing so well at the moment. Apart from Calvin Harris who is just on a roll, and provides the album with its only convincing smash hit.

Still, a decent listen and it’ll do until Girls Aloud finally get their shit together.

Keepers for the iPod: Under the sun, Call my name, Screw you, Ghetto Baby

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