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Cheryl Cole, A Million Lights: review
It may have been beginner's luck, but there's no forgetting Cheryl headed straight to number one with her brilliant first attempt at solo stardom with the catchy tune, Fight For This Love. Add to that the commendable success of her first album 3 Words and things were definitely looking rosy for the dimpled girl dubbed the nations sweetheart.
But the music world is a fickle one and things fizzled out for the former Girls Aloud star after her second album Messy Little Raindrops.
Its accompanying singles failed to register on most people's radars and a string of live performances that were less than well-received didn't help. And yet here we are - facing Cheryl's third album release.
Admittedly, a third album is a tricky step for even the most established and adored of pop stars. So, A Million Lights was always going to be a real test of Cheryl's staying power.
The hype around A Million Lights started earlier this month in a promising manner. Her single Call My Name is a confident, chart-perfect pop tune which found its way to the top of the UK charts quicker than Simon Cowell could say 'come back to the X Factor'. However, those hoping that this album would be the record that finally crushes her critics and cements her as the only successful member of Girls Aloud may need to brace themselves for a smidgen of disappointment.
For the past year she's flitted between the UK and LA, working on the album and it's had a predictably obvious impact on the direction her music has taken. It's no secret Cheryl has a slight obsession with the US and that she's had a desire to secure a career for herself out there. So, ergo, this album is full of American-influenced dance breaks that a late 90's J.Lo would be envious of. And from the outset we didn't need Mystic Meg to tell us that her friend slash producer Will.i.am would leave his signature stamp of poppy dance and computer enhanced vocals all over the 11 tracks.
The album opener, Under The Sun, is a perfectly acceptable track full of bounce, upbeat vocals and what some may say are obvious references to ex-husband Ashley Cole. 'I wont give you my heart because it don't break twice' sings Cheryl in such a cheery way that the more cynical among us might assume that she knows how much press songs like this will get her.
Her marriage may have ended some years ago but Cheryl's a clever lady and she knows that fans and celebrity press alike love nothing more than when her heartache spills over into her music. Heartbreak aside, it's a strong opening track that has chart success written all over it.
The rest of the album is a mixed bag. From teaming up with British rapper Wretch 32, to drafting in producers Jim Beanz, Naughty Boy and Beema Boys, it means we're hearing a slightly edgier Cheryl than we'd ever imaged. The danger is that more often than not the album comes across as just a tad too try-hard and immature. The majority of the lyrics feel like they would be more suited to X Factor wannabe Cher Lloyd and not Cheryl - who has earned herself a reputation as something of a force to be reckoned with when it comes to bouncing back from adversity.
Under The Stars, Call My Name and Screw You are the stand out tracks but the rest don't inspire much foot-tapping or smell of chart success we're afraid. It's worth nothing Cheryl's also succumbed to the seemingly must-have music trend of the moment - laying dub-step inspired beats underneath all of her vocals in a way that would anger even the tamest fans of the genre!
In summary, A Million Lights is the equivalent of pop painting by numbers. It's almost like Cheryl and her team have entered the entire contents of the top 40 over the past 10 years and come up with an equation for achieving chart success.
And that's the thing; this album will do well for Cheryl because she still has enough sway and a large enough fan base to sell enough units to class this release as a success. Her Achilles heel may be her singles though - because with all her fans already owning the album, we're not sure there will be anyone left or interested enough to buy them!
A Million Lights is released on 18th July.