Easily exceeds expectations despite some throwaway moments.
Mike Diver 2009-10-22
Before we even begin, consider your own expectations for this, the first solo album from a member of Girls Aloud. Its lead single Fight For This Love might be breaking sales records at the time of writing, but surely nobody’s fooling themselves into thinking 3 Words will stand up to much scrutiny.
Cole might be something of a national treasure these days, a bona-fide celebrity beyond her music career, but few would ever single her out as the driving vocal force in Girls Aloud. The Newcastle-born singer can’t compete with the natural ability of bandmate Nadine Coyle – soon to follow in Cole’s solo deal footsteps– so has wisely surrounded herself with fine collaborators here, most notably will.i.am of global superstars the Black Eyed Peas. Also on board are Taio Cruz and a spread of hugely successful writers including Chris Braide (Kylie Minogue, Will Young) and Steve Kipner (Christina Aguilera, Kelly Rowland).
Producer and rapper will.i.am – real name William Adams – appears on three tracks here, and his own Cole-featuring single Heartbreaker is tagged on as a closing bonus track. His vocals complement Cole’s well, most effectively on the title track, soon to be released as a single. The lyrics might leave much to be desired – essentially the whole album is concerned with love: finding it, winning it, embracing it and losing it – but the surprisingly restrained arrangement, where heavy beats are balanced with light piano-style motifs and acoustic guitar elements, is a treat. Heaven isn’t as engaging, its sickly sweet vocal lines sure to elicit a chuckle or two, but at least the sentiments don’t stray over the album’s course.
Stand Up is a Cruz co-write, and it shows – the track’s smooth synth lines and sparkly production are echoes of the singer’s own Rokstarr album – and Boy Like You, another will.i.am collaboration, lifts a loop from Fleetwood Mac’s Little Lies to good effect. Parachute’s military percussion is similarly memorable. Mid-section numbers Rain On Me and Make Me Cry – Cole makes out like she does that a lot – are relative throwaways, but honestly: there was no way this was going to be a success from start to finish. The main ingredient is simply too imperfect to be polished to a flawless shine.
But 3 Words does exceed pessimistic predictions, and easily so, packing enough peaks to make Coyle’s inevitable follow-up very much the uphill struggle.