It’s the more sincere moments that prove standouts on Cheryl’s third album.
Al Fox 2012
As she releases her third solo album, it’s worth remembering that Cheryl (sans the Cole part, as her profile now declares a mundanity such as a surname redundant) came to the fore as a pop star. Amidst the personal dramas and the gossip fodder and the being chewed up by the X Factor machine, A Million Lights would do well to serve as a reminder of the singer at the heart of the ceaseless interest.
In practice, it gets halfway there. Lead single Call My Name is Calvin Harris by numbers, every beat foreseeable a mile off. And a handful of other songs subscribe to the safety of all-consuming radio-house, songs which could be attributed to anyone. It’s an exercise which doesn’t do her justice – for instance, the middle-eight of Sexy Den a Mutha, the only part where she sounds discernibly like herself, is the track’s high point.
For a woman whose every move is scrutinised by the murkier corners of the press, it’s understandable that she doesn’t want to lay herself entirely bare. But the infrequent flurries of sincerity provide the standout moments of the album.
The title track, an epic trance ballad which displays a genuine sensitivity, goes some way to depicting unfeigned individuality, something replicated on the stripped-down All Is Fair. And even the hip hop truisms that fill Ghetto Baby only heighten its lingering, brassy character.
It’s certainly not a ballad/up-tempo divide, though. The bleating synths and gritty squelch of Love Killer are commanding when twinned with a frank vocal, while the casual, high-spirited Under the Sun boasts a playful, summery, arguably alternative trait.
A Million Lights works well, and it works now – largely, it’s a scrapbook of 2012 trends. And while it’s not quite the same dead-eyed detachment you’d get from, say, Rihanna, it treads a fine line between noticeable passion and pop for pop’s sake. There’s far more going in the favour of Cheryl The Human than of Cherylcorp Ltd – those vast, busy pop explosions serve a purpose nicely, but the indications of artistry are significantly more appealing.