Cheryl / Cheryl Cole

3 Words

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Seven years after Girls Aloud broke out on the scene, Cheryl Cole emerged as its breakout star, the beauty who stood above the rest. Cole's captivating charm made her the perfect pop star, and her better-than-most's voice never slowed her down. In the last quarter of the 2000s, she found her own success away from her multi-platinum roots by becoming the fourth judge on the monstrously successful U.K. television program The X-Factor. Cole's role as a judge and mentor to contestants made her even more of a celebrity than she already was -- quite a feat -- and helped Cole gain the courage to release her first solo studio album since she entered the music business. Her talents were, and still are, geared towards mainstream pop, however, unlike the contestants she mentors on the X-Factor, Cole is not a budding star; she's a dignified celebrity starting a new chapter in her music career; and though she was 26 years old upon the release of her first solo effort, 3 Words, she has the maturity of a true music veteran. All to say, her first album couldn't rely on gimmicks or empty beats like many early debuts; it also couldn't have the no-care pop attitude that her early Girls Aloud albums did, or their contemporary counterparts, the Saturdays. Therefore, she teamed up with an established hitmaker, will.i.am, famous for his work with the Black Eyed Peas, and with him Cole has strung together a solid collection of sparkily pop hits that seem to be stuck in between vibrance and polish; in other words, they don't feel too old and stuffy, but they are a bit stale in large part. Cole does have some smash singles here; lead single "Fight for This Love" is a terrific midtempo number with a heck of a chorus, and its follow-up, "Parachute," shines for its undeniable catchiness and lethal drum line. Still, the rest of the album, especially the four songs that feature will.i.am -- too much for any one person to be featured on one album, unless you are Justin Timberlake and Timbaland -- seem uninspiring, especially for a superstar like Cole, who has all of the globe waiting for her to deliver a monster smash. Numbers like "Stand Up" seem to briefly tease the listener with Cole's potential to rule the European dance charts on her own, but this muddy first effort doesn't suggest that that moment is right now. Cole should work harder on her next album to find a more dynamic sound, which may be difficult since she is past her Girls Aloud sound, but she's also not the kind of artist who would soar on a collection of ballads like X-Factor's Leona Lewis or Cole's own famous X-Factor prodigy, Alexandra Burke .

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