In a tale that’s as old as time itself, we of a certain age have seen the rise and fall and eventual rise again of Ms. Cheryl Tweedy. Once arch WAG and toilet attendant-baiter, she has of late been reborn as Cheryl Cole, Britain’s favourite big sister and heroine-with-an-air-of-tragedy. However, it has to be said that of her Girls Aloud bandmates, Cole seemed the most unlikely to pursue a solo singing career. Could be because of her turbulent and high profile personal life, but perhaps it’s due to the fact that she’s never been perceived as one of the stronger singers in her group. That said, their hi-octane, brassy pop has never lent itself particularly well to Cole’s at-times icy vocals. Clearly tying in with her stint as the soft-eyed but essentially pointless sweetheart of the X-Factor juggernaut, 3 Words attempts to cement her now spotless reputation and maybe buy her some of the credibility her mother band have been afforded.
Drafting in her old sparring buddy and Black Eyed Peas frontman Will.i.am would appear to be a smart move on Cole’s part, and his fingerprints are definitely apparent all over the record. It’s a weakness and a strength. It’s certainly a break away from Girls Aloud’s instantly recognisable sound which comes courtesy of Xenomania, but whether it’s a step forward or back is a matter of opinion. Opener ‘3 Words’ promises much, and almost delivers, with pulsing repetitive guitar strings building up to a brooding, mid-tempo dance number. The swirling ‘Rain on Me’ is a nice, forgettable pop number, of which there are more than one here, but it’s songs like ‘Parachute’ that showcase perhaps a far more interesting side to Cole, with her chanting over a soaring, sweet marching band sound, albeit a bit forgettably.
Similarly, ‘Happy Hour’ showcases Will.i.am’s deft hand at a catchy hook, but it’s the shambolic Winehouse-esque lyrical content that piques most interest (“I’m only good if I can have a sip/Sometimes I’m sweet and some I’m sour/But I can’t help but drink you up/’Cos you’re my happy hour”). In fact, it’s probably the song titles and lyrical content that will interest most people, hoping to catch a snippet of Cole’s apparent inner turmoil that’s made her the best-known cuckquean since Hilary Clinton. Oddly enough, it’s the upbeat numbers that bring 3 Words down, as it were. Taio Cruz’s offering ‘Stand Up’ is as faceless as anything at the top of the top 40 (and will probably be released as a single at some point), and current single ‘Fight For This Love’ couldn’t be more generic. The sampling of ‘Little Lies’ by Fleetwood Mac does nothing to lift the repetitive ‘Boy Like You’ and the inclusion of ‘Heartbreaker’ which is, to all intents and purposes, Will.i.am’s song, seems a bit patronising, too. Autotuned and over-produced to death it is, but it’s no less than we’d expect from the queen of all reality TV. Pop album of the year it isn’t, but I somehow doubt that’ll stop it selling by the skip-load. It’s unlikely anything will be able to hold back Britain’s ‘Angel of the North’ at this point.