Just ‘Cheryl’, not Tweedy, thankfully not bloody Cole, just ‘Cheryl’ – a name like a pound shop Sindy doll with a face you could squash, like a finalist in a Miss Doncaster 1988 contest, malleable Cheryl with her everyday moniker. Hardly a rousing sucker punch in the gob of pop is it? Hardly the incendiary rebirth that was touted. ‘Chezza’ would have made more sense, Chezza is mad enough to sing something like ‘Promise This’ with a straight face but would she have released an album as dull as A Million Lights?
Hmmm. She certainly would have approved of breezy opener ‘Under the Sun’ with its holler-back vocals and gimlet eyed view of blokes and their intentions. Calvin Harris and his magic ‘woosh’ machine would have get the giant foam thumbs up for managing to make ‘Call My Name’ sound like the rogue offspring of ‘We Found Love’ kicking Alex Party’s ‘Don’t Give Me Your Life’ round a drizzly car park. Alas what A Million Lights suffers from is the ‘modern pop problem’ of committee writing, especially if that committee includes the space-age incarnation of Wyclef Jean that is WILL.I.AM.
Our Cheryl seems to be under some deluded belief that the man who wrote the exceptional rhyming couplet ‘what you gon’ do wit all that breast?/All that breast inside that shirt?/I’ma make, make, make, make you work’ (possibly everything you need to know about Will’s opinion of the laydees) is some kind of new-pop hit Tsar. Yes, Mr. I.AM. does know his way around a catchy tune but he’s not saving them for Cheryl, instead we’re treated to the vocoder dirge of ‘Craziest Things’ that crushes all the giddy excitement of previous tracks with one of its dull sledgehammer beats.
From then on other committee members take centre stage, offering up their interpretation of Chez – which is exactly the problem. Rihanna may use the same technique of a team of freshly minted writers and producers cooking up the snazziest of sounds for Queen Ri-Ri but she is a fully constructed pop caricature, a bogling, snarling, whirlwind of intensity. But Cheryl? Well, who is Cheryl? And can Jim Beanz be arsed distilling the essence of Chezza into one track when she herself doesn’t seem to know who she is either? Is she the Britney-lite of the nonsensical ‘Sexy Den A Mutha’ or a karaoke Lana Del Ray on ‘Ghetto Baby’? Cheryl is all things to all men and it all amounts to nothing. With her character or style not fully developed on her two previous albums she now sounds utterly lost in a whirl of chaotic noise, a ghost in a well oiled machine. She is the modern facsimile pop star, her image and voice plucked from the supermarket shelf as they were sold out of Pixie Lotts.
Which is devastating, this is not how it should be for the plucky, gorgeous Geordie with the chocolate button eyes. Coming from the top drawer of girlpop with Girls Aloud and on her third album, wall to wall hits is expected, what is not is the dribbly forgettable mush of ‘All is Fair’, if all was fair A Million Lights would feature eleven tracks as astonishing as ‘Mechanics of the Heart’ a dense, dark, grown-up slice of robo-pop that nails the tabloid image of Twatly Cole with a deftness that belies Tao Cruz usual concentration on babes n’ blow. It swoops and swoons with Cheryl’s much maligned vocals thundering into their own as it threads its hypnotic melody through your bloodstream.
A Million Lights and its million different contributors seems to have lost one tiny Cheryl in the mix. Until she decides what words she truly wants put in her mouth she’ll have to stick to the script written for multiple pop-girls just like her while others continue to push forward. And that’s a waste.