The career path of X-Factor contestants used to be pretty simple. Record an album in a matter of weeks, half karaoke standards and half Westlife rejects, watch it sell by the bucketloads when it's released for Mother's Day, and then disappear back into obscurity before the next series begins. Since Leona Lewis bucked the trend by releasing the transatlantic success Spirit, Simon Cowell's protégées have been handled with far better care and have had much more time and money invested in them. No one has been given more time than Diana Vickers, whose debut album comes 18 months after she finished fourth in the 2008 competition, behind chart-toppers Alexandra Burke and JLS, and the more forgettable Eoghan Quigg. From her opening audition, where she performed Damien Rice's "The Whistle Blower's Daughter," it was clear from the start that the Blackburn singer was a little edgier than other contestants. So it's no surprise to see that Songs from the Tainted Cherry Tree features tracks written by the likes of Nerina Pallot, Ellie Goulding, and Lightspeed Champion, rather than the ubiquitous Red One or Ryan Tedder. But despite its indie credentials, Songs is still essentially a straightforward pop/rock album. Indeed, opening number "Once," a recent Cathy Dennis-penned number one, and second single "The Boy Who Murdered Love" certainly wouldn't have sounded out of place on the last Kelly Clarkson album. Elsewhere, "Me and You" and "Numb" are the kind of piano-led reflective ballads that soundtrack the closing scenes of most U.S. teen dramas, while the swirling violins and soft rock chorus of "Notice" echoes Talk on Corners-era Corrs. But there are times when Vickers, particularly on the folky electronica of "Chasing You" and "Hit" and the synth-heavy "My Hip," proves she can be just as convincing when tackling more adventurous material. Thankfully, her self-consciously kooky vocals have been toned down since her X-Factor beginnings, her icy and breathy tones now recalling a young Sarah McLachlan rather than a poor Shakira impersonator. Songs from the Tainted Cherry Tree may not be as alternative as its songwriting credits suggest, but there's enough potential to suggest that the early Kate Bush/Tori Amos comparisons may not be so wide of the mark in the future.
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AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien