Album Review: Cheryl Cole – A Million Lights

Photo: Ellen Von Unworth

For the next few minutes, we’re going to pretend that ‘Messy Little Raindrops’ never happened; an album that, in comparison, made it’s own title stand out as one of the best things about the era. This is the record that is going to address, intentionally or unintentionally, Cheryl Cole’s X Factor drama, the cheating husband issues and the perils of being the nations sweetheart, in a way that the second record never managed. ‘Call My Name’ has already led the album campaign with a frantic and almost terrifying level of hype. Fastest selling single of the year, they say? One of her best, they say? Prior to it’s release, this record is slowly being killed by anticipation; it seemed almost impossible to live up to the expectations held for it. Fear not, though, just one listen will prove that ‘A Million Lights’ is easily Cheryl Cole’s best solo output yet.

A lot of criticism thrown at Cheryl is that she has no identity, at least not in her music. Wrong. Cheryl’s penchant for dubstep has been significantly unleashed and tamed on many tracks here and her love for the urban scene has finally been interspersed within the music; giving it enough edge to stay true to her love, but a sheen and production that set it firmly in the world of pop. ‘A Million Lights’ takes what Cheryl has attempted since day one and makes a coherent and enjoyable record out of it, instead of the hit and miss attempts that most artists are afforded pre-success.

The gorgeous ‘A Million Lights’ succeeds in every way that ‘The Flood’ failed. Whilst the latter was a decent album track, ‘A Million Lights’ is a stunning, powerful and atmospheric ballad. Nope, I didn’t expect it from Cheryl either, but it’s easily one of the stand out tracks here. Similarly, the gorgeous ‘All Is Fair’ is a sensational album closer with the defiant message of countering defeat. Musically, it’s minimal, sticking mainly to a drum beat and the occasional string and synth accompaniment before the huge chorus kicks in when it all comes together beautifully; another example of how the ballads on this record are easily the best tracks, not only from the record, but that Cheryl has put her name on thus far.

The summery charm of ‘Under The Sun’ puts it firmly in line to be a future single, as does the dance-heavy ‘Sexy Den A Mutha’ that uses it’s simplicity to a catchy benefit. There are a few weak links mingling amongst the bunch, though – ‘Craziest Things’ is decent but doesn’t quite reach it’s potential despite a great back and forth with Cole’s mentor Will.I.Am; nor  is ‘Last One Standing’ significantly memorable enough to take a place amongst the superior bonus tracks that precede it. ‘Screw You’ and ‘Boys Lie’ find Cole at her fiercest, particularly on the latter when the passion and conviction seeps out of her words – no auto tune can hide that, thankfully. As Cheryl belts out that ‘love is so lonely’ in the former, you can feel that she is true to her word in recording only tracks that she feels passionate about. 

So, what was started on the ropey but enjoyable ‘3 Words’, is finally getting the fine tuning it needs on ‘A Million Lights’. This album is relevant and tracks like ‘Call My Name’ and ‘Sexy Den A Mutha’ define what is happening chart-wise in 2012, but the highlights on the record is when she does things a little differently; instead of sticking with the tried-and-tested Adele formula, we find some punchy synths weaved into her ballads and the forgotten charms of the early 2000’s pop scene are rehashed to great effect on  tracks like ‘Girl In The Mirror’. It’s rather strange that Cheryl Cole, who is hailed as the perfect style icon and perfect role model (excusing the toilet attendant incident) as well as embodying the epitome of what young girls aspire to achieve, made her name through music; her output is the only thing in her career that isn’t at perfection, just yet, but this record and era goes to show that it’s getting there, slowly but surely.

Words: Simon McMurdo
Photo: Ellen Von Unworth


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