If your experience of Cheryl Cole's last album was anything like mine you were probably dreading her next solo effort. 2010's Messy Little Raindrops was pieced together in between Cole's near-death experience with malaria (No, really) and her X-Factor judging slot. And boy did it show. A gloopy mess with only a handful of decent upbeat tracks (and an underrated single in Promise This) it still stands out as one of the worse blockbuster pop albums I've ever heard.
A Million Lights arrives as Cheryl (who seems to have shed off that surname like they were last season's 6-inch heels) sets out to remind everyone she's all about the music, not just a tabloid obsession but a proper popstar. No, she isn't possessed of Mariah-style pipes or a Gaga style penchant for writing her own material but Cheryl does possess oodles of charisma, a voice that on the right material delivers plenty of pop drama and knocks out dance-move driven videos that put many bigger stars to shame.
The overall result is certainly enjoyable but feels strangely unmemorable. Now that she's away from Girls Aloud winning partnership with Xenomania the quirky, unique-but-accessible tunes of their heyday are out of their grasp as she aims for what she must think are more sophisicated "cooler" pop tunes. When it works, it's thrilling. Call My Name stands head and shoulders above the rest of the material here. It's the only surefire moment of star quality on the album from a popstar who needs as many of them as she can get.
That's not to say this is a bad album by any means. Craziest Things and Love Killer are mid-tempo numbers infused with dubstep touches that work well and see Cheryl sing with a vigour that suggests singing about love gone wrong comes naturally to her. Screw You, already earmarked as a potential second single, is more up-tempo but covers similar ground. While it got press types into a lather it's not quite as punishing or aggressive as you'd expect. A tad underproduced, it never quite hits the boxes it's aiming for, a criticism you can sadly level at the majority of the material here.
Two mid-tempos that do work surprisingly well are the Lana Del Rey penned Ghetto Baby which has Cheryl sing in a huskier register and do a Lana impression to decent effect and the Girl In The Mirror whose glitchy beat and angsty lyrics have a refreshing bite missing from other tracks.
Sexy Den A Mutha however, is as ridiculous and amazing as the title suggests. Though it's straightforward club-pop production might sound like quite a few other chart smashes, it's one of the few really stand-out tracks with a great sense of build up and plenty of "watch Cheryl dance her socks off to this in a video" potential.
Sadly as is the case with most pop albums there are a couple of dreary ballads (including the dreadful title track) to contend with, an attempt at a Bruno Mars style number in Under the Sun that doesn't quite convince and a song that seems to be included purely for war/soldier/fighting metaphors that will appease her fanbase who she affectionately calls soldiers (the yawn-inducing All Is Fair).
A Million Lights isn't a turkey but it still feels like the steady start Cole made with her first album has yet to be followed through. Hardcore fans will find some stuff to enjoy but the majority will only need a few tracks to sneak into their iTunes playlists. It seems that killer Cheryl album is sadly still a long way off.
A Million Lights is released tomorrow in the UK and is available now in Ireland.