On the face of it, Cheryl Cole’s once indestructible star has been fading. Her National Sweetheart tag looked endangered on the 2010 season of The X Factor when she sent home Gamu in favour of Katie Waissel and Cher Lloyd, and then, when she was faced with a media circus over her departure from the US edition, critics declared that, without such a huge platform, her solo career was basically finished.
And if you’re a regular reader of the showbiz pages in Britain's tabloids, you probably thought the same. You’d have believed that her fans (yes, her fans) were “FURIOUS” with her for allegedly miming on The Voice, or for halting her performance on The Graham Norton Show mid-recording because she’d fluffed the dancing. But then she released ‘Call My Name’, it sold 97,000 copies in three days, and became highly likely to become the fastest-selling single of 2012. What have we learned? That behind the headlines is still one of the country's most wanted popstars.
A Million Lights is SUCH a progression from 2009′s 3 Words and 2010′s Messy Little Raindrops. But trailed by Grower Of The Century ‘Call My Name’, it’s surprisingly sparse on the dance-pop-anthem front. Midtempo dub-ballads are the order of the day; the best of which is the previously teased ‘Love Killer’, the worst being will.i.am's anticlimactic contribution ‘Craziest Things’ - less 'dope', more dull.
Elsewhere ‘Ghetto Baby’ sounds exactly like you think it does when you hear that Lana Del Rey wrote it (that's a good thing), and even the bizarrely-titled ‘Sexy Den A Mutha’ sounds right at home.
But the very best tracks bookend the set. ‘Under The Sun’ at the beginning (produced by 'Love The Way You Lie' hitmaker Alex Da Kid) and ‘All Is Fair’ at the end are both exceptional. The former is just a fantastic pop song with a hook more infectious than the common cold, and the latter is an understated, slow-building chant that lyrically sums up the whole record.
She may not have the best voice in the business by quite some distance, but you wouldn't go to a Cheryl concert expecting an Adele-style showcase of vocal acrobatics. You'd go for the performance and, most importantly, for the Grade-A pop music. And A Million Lights has that in spades.
PHOTOS: Cheryl's most memorable TV performances