By Richard Wink
When Cheryl’s ‘Call My Name’ went to Number One in the singles chart she followed the new breed of British female pop – Tulisa, Rita Ora, Jessie J – that had already tasted success in 2012. The younger, edgier, arguably more talented aforementioned trio have forced Cheryl to up her game. They say that iron forges iron, and in terms of Pop on a Global scale, the successes of Gaga, Rihanna and Katy Perry has seen a healthy bubble of competition that has contributed catchy earworms to the airwaves that bury their way into your head for days on end.
Rihanna’s recent dominance of the charts and commercial radio owes a lot to her team, it was revealed by John Seabrook, when writing in the New Yorker about how Ri-Ri’s manager and label assemble writer camps where the finest and edgiest pop producers in the world come together and brainstorm hits. For any aspiring pop princess, it is imperative to work with the hippest and sharpest producers and writing talents in the industry.
Where does Cheryl fit into all this? To tick one box she’s working with a host of talented producers such as Alex da Kid, Pantha, Jim Beanz and The Beamer Boyz. With Number Ones under her belt, and this already being her third album, Cheryl has undoubtedly outperformed her Girls Aloud bandmates, and hushed her many doubters who questioned whether she could hack it as a solo artist. However, when looking at her competition, has she got the staying power, and the ability to compete with the dominant pop female forces?
Compared to her horrendous second album Messy Little Raindrops, A Million Lights at least has a clutch of promising tracks. The melodramatic title track actually showcases Cole’s underrated vocal tone (remember folks she did once sing live when she was winning the nation’s hearts as a cute nineteen year old on Popstars: The Rivals), ‘All is Fair’ has nice minimalist beats, ‘Girl In the Mirror’’ talks about Cheryl’s struggles with her own biggest critic… which seems to be herself (although there could be some doubt about this interpretation given that she didn’t write the lyrics). ‘Love Killer’ with its vanilla dubstep benefits from a contemporary R’n’B twist, and ‘Screw You’ is playfully defiant.
There are a number of duffers, the misplaced anthemic ‘Under The Sun’ tries too hard to be something, but isn’t really anything, the inevitable Will.I.Am collaboration falters badly and ‘Sexy Den A Mutha’ is a real marmite song – personally speaking, I hate it.
The key to writing a good pop song is making it addictive and impossible to get out of you head. I’ve hummed along to ‘Call Me Baby’ three times today, despite doing my best to ignore its omnipresence. Gaga, Rihanna and Katy Perry and the machines behind them are able to churn out songs that aren’t merely hummable, but like a tropical virus, impossible to shake off. Cheryl’s debut single ‘Fight For This Love’ had that necessary quality, and potentially from this album the Calvin Harris written and produced ‘Call My Name’ will be looked back upon at the year’s end as one of pop’s more significant singles. Cheryl needs to continue seeking out the hitmakers, and get them to keep providing her with their strongest songs.
Many have criticized Cheryl for not writing her own songs. Who cares? She’s the finished product from the pop factory, batteries are included, songs pre-installed and programmed. Though one might ask in these Tabloid tell-all times, why do we know learn so little about Cheryl from her music? We know Rihanna likes to party, that Gaga is pushing the boundaries with fashionable flair and how Jessie J is determined to use negative past experiences as fuel for her rise to glory. When Cheryl is interviewed the mask never slips. When performing all we see is the gloss. Her music is equally guarded. What does this album tell us about Cheryl, what is she expressing?
A Million Lights is a competent pop album, and arguably Cheryl’s strongest release. Cheryl herself remains elusive, and it doesn’t feel like she’s put everything, all her creative energy, into this recording. Perhaps this is because of a lack of self-belief as to whether she can challenge the leading ladies of pop.