Having dropped the Cole (both the name and the footballer) Cheryl - as we’ve been told to refer to her now - is setting out to prove with her third album A Million Lights that she is a viable commodity in the pop marketplace instead of just a familiar face from the telly. While her first solo record was a success, its 2010 follow-up Messy Little Raindrops underwhelmed and some success is badly needed to ensure that Cheryl isn't consigned to the same bargain bins as her Girls Aloud pals Nadine Coyle and Nicola Roberts.
The popular music landscape is a notoriously difficult place to make an impact. Record store shelves are littered with efforts from reality show contestants who've failed to be embraced by the public but Cheryl has worked her public persona to such a degree that she is now better known for her television exploits than her music career, which is a tricky conundrum to overcome when trying to publicise a new album.
Collaborations with some big names were no doubt intended to remind audiences that Cheryl is, in fact, a pop star. Taio Cruz, will.i.am and Calvin Harris all have a hand in the record, which suggests that a) the label aren't entirely convinced of Cheryl's ability to sell a record on her own and b) that David Guetta was unavailable. Still, Harris infuses the album's standout track 'Call My Name' with the sort of club anthemic rhythm that we've come to expect from him. will.i.am, on the other hand, would have been better served staying home as his duet on 'Craziest Things' is a turgid affair. The title track and 'Girl In The Mirror' do stand out above some of the rest, though.
Critical appraisals of albums like this are sometimes difficult. There's nothing egregiously wrong with anything on the album, it's just that we've heard all of this stuff before. A Million Lights will sell the majority of its units based on Cheryl's persona and perceived charisma more than its songwriting nous. In fact, Cheryl didn't write any of the tracks on the album and has even said in interviews that she doesn't know what some of the songs are about. When an album is conceived in such an impersonal manner it's difficult to feel anything but ambivalence towards it.