It was a relief that 2011 came and went without an album from Cheryl Cole, née Tweedy, now just Cheryl. Although it scored Chezza her second UK number one, 2010’s Messy Little Raindrops seemed rushed, made in a haze of malaria and heartbreak as she juggled judging on The X Factor with recording. Not that she’s had a moment’s respite since. Much of last year was consumed by her disastrous Stateside X Factor sojourn and working on this latest LP with a raft of new collaborators.
Wisely, manager/Black Eyed Pea Will.i.am’s input is kept to a minimum – he pops up just once on the repetitive ‘Craziest Things’, which flaunts pop’s latest craze for a dampened dubstep bass whomp (see also ‘Love Killer’). Another recurrent dance-to-pop motif recurs thanks to Calvin Harris (who else?) and his migraine-inducing synths stabs (‘Call My Name’).
There is a slight tendency here for the 28-year-old to too closely recall her peers: ‘Sexy Den a Mutha’ is a Rihanna cast-off, ‘Ghetto Baby’, penned by Lana Del Rey, should have remained a demo and ‘Under The Sun’ is Lily Allen-lite, cheapened instantly by an inexplicable football chant refrain. That said, A Million Lights represents a shift in tempo and drops to a warmer vocal tone which clearly suits her. Largely, ballads and clunky romantic musings are dropped in favour of a ballsier attitude. When judged against her own back catalogue this record deserves three stars, but in the great pop pantheon, competing with titans like Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and even Katy Perry, Cheryl is still finding her feet.