On the face of it, Cheryl’s indestructible star has been fading. Her National Sweetheart tag began to look a little weary on the 2010 season of The X Factor when she sent home Gamu in favour of Katie Waissel and Cher Lloyd, and then, when she was faced with a media circus following her departure from the US edition, critics became a hell of a lot more vocal and declared that, without that huge platform, her solo career was basically finished.
And if you’re a regular reader of the showbiz pages of the melodramatic British tabloids, you probably thought the same. You’d have believed that her fans (yes, her fans) were “FURIOUS” with her for allegedly miming on The Voice, or that her fans (again, her fans) had turned their backs on her when she halted her performance on The Graham Norton Show mid-recording because she’d fluffed the dancing. But then she released ‘Call My Name’, it sold 97,000 copies in three days, and will very possibly go on to become the fastest-selling single of 2012. The moral of the story? Don’t let a ludicrously excessive amount of bad press distract from A) how popular someone is; and B), in the case of new album A Million Lights, how good a popstar they are.
Said she recently: “I am very aware of my ability, I know I’m no Mariah Carey but I think the emotion in the song is what matters. It’s making people feel what you’re singing about. My new album is designed to entertain… I’ve grown as a person and an artist, you can hear that in my music. I feel brand new.” And AML is SUCH a progression over 2009′s 3 Words and 2010′s Messy Little Raindrops.
But trailed by Grower Of The Century ‘Call My Name’, it’s surprisingly sparse on the dance-pop rave anthem front. Midtempo dub-ballads are the order of the day; the best of which is the previously teased ‘Love Killer’, the worst of which is the LP’s weakest song full-stop ‘Craziest Things’, courtesy of – GUESS WHO – will.i.am. Elsewhere ‘Ghetto Baby’ sounds exactly like you think it does when you hear that Lana Del Rey wrote it, and Cheryl sounds great on it, and even the bizarrely-titled ‘Sexy Den A Mutha’ sounds right at home.
The traditional ballads are a lot better this time, too. Whilst 3 Words‘ ‘Don’t Talk About This Love’ just sounded out of place and Messy Little Raindrops‘ ‘The Flood’ didn’t make for that good a choice of single, this record’s title track is incredibly powerful and late-album bombastoballad ‘Mechanics Of A Heart’, written by Loick Essien and Taio Cruz, is also a triumph despite its slightly cringey lyrics.
But if you ask me (and I’ll take the fact that you’re even reading this as a green-light that you did), the very best tracks bookend the set. ‘Under The Sun’ at the beginning, produced by Alex Da Kid (Eminem, Rihanna) and co-written by Cole, and ‘All Is Fair’ at the end, produced by Jim Beanz (Nelly Furtado, Britney Spears) are both exceptional. The former is just a fantastic pop song with a hook more infectious than the common cold, and the latter is an understated, slow-building chant that just about sums up the whole record perfectly. Cheryl may not be perfect and she may have more than her fair share of critics, but she’s still one of our country’s finest popstars.