Forced to draw up a (brief) list of X Factor winners who’ve gone on to enjoy successful careers, we would almost certainly include Alexandra Burke. Three of her first five singles went to Number One, ‘Hallelujah’ is the second fastest-selling winners’ single to date and she even got invited back to be a guest judge during last year’s run.
And yet, despite the success of Overcome, her second album campaign has been fraught with blunder after blunder. For a start, June 2012 is quite a while after the October 2009 debut, and in that time JLS, who of course Alexandra beat in the 2008 final, have released no less than three LPs themselves. Then, once the billion-year wait finally culminated in the premiere of trailer single ‘Elephant’, we were met with a Grower That Never Was. A euphoric dance-pop track without any euphoria. The titular elephant in the room was, unfortunately, that the early signs of Album No. 2 weren’t too good at all.
‘Let It Go’, the second single from Heartbreak On Hold, is much stronger, but by now radio playlisters have made their stance on this campaign pretty clear – there will be no airplay for it whatsoever. The track limped to No. 33 on a meagre 11,000 sales, and suddenly the importance of this album doing well has gone from solidifying what Overcome started to saving her career altogether.
The good and frustrating news is that ‘Elephant’ is comfortably the weakest song on Heartbreak On Hold, and I’m not just saying that for the sake of being dramatic. Whilst the album is generally as original as ending a text message with an X, it is produced and sung to a pleasingly high standard – note especially the stereo-hogging opener (the title track), the gloriously camp ‘This Love Will Survive’ and Euro-friendly late-album blaster ‘Ooh La La’. Oh, and the Kylie-like ‘Love You That Much’. OH, and the relatively dark ‘Daylight Robbery’. Basically there are a lot of very good pop songs on here.
The production may thrive when the tempo is up and the hands are aloft, but Alexandra’s powerful voice flaunts its colour a lot more on the slower tracks. ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’ is restrained and beautiful, and has a slight whiff of Robyn’s ‘With Every Heartbeat’ about it, and closing piano ballad ‘What Money Can’t By’, though not particularly strong as an actual song, reminds us why we voted for her over JLS and Eoghan Quigg in the first place – she’s got a bloody big set of lungs on her. And whilst Heartbreak On Hold may not be the most groundbreaking release of the year, it deserves to make a much bigger impact than I fear it might.