Can we have a fair assessment of Cheryl Fernandez-Versini‘s new album?
Only Human is the ex-Girls Aloud siren’s fourth solo offering, another piece of the ever-expanding Cheryl brand which includes a high-profile role as a judge on the X Factor, a signature fragrance and autobiography. While she is unquestionably one of Britain’s hottest celebrities, Cheryl is quick to remind folks that she’s got all the makings of a proper popstar. This has been her bread and butter for the past 12 years after all. Naturally, Only Human is predicted to debut somewhere in the Top 3 as Cheryl has never had problems getting decent first-week sales. But beyond that, what will this album reveal and add to the Geordie entertainer’s oeuvre?
First thing’s first, as a body of work, this is Cheryl’s most cohesive album since her 2010 debut 3 Words. The vocals on the album are some of her most consistent yet and sonically it keeps her in the safe equilibrium of pop with electronic and R&B leanings. Only Human‘s main shortcoming is being a tad heavy on mid-tempos, even though most of which are pleasant enough and carry some form of life-affirming message. On one hand it borders on being too prosaic, especially since we know Cheryl is capable of dishing proper bangers like ‘Call My Name’, but at the same time it is quite a pleasant switch after her last album’s peppery break up themes.
The first single ‘Crazy Stupid Love’ (featuring Tinie Tempah) is surprisingly the album’s most rhythmic and addictive tune. The blaring horns, handclaps and merry ‘la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!’ bits seem to light up the album in ways unmatched by any other track. The song is produced by Wayne Wilkins, who was behind Cheryl’s first #1 hit ‘Fight For This Love’, and is his only involvement in the project. It’s a pity there isn’t nearly enough of this energy pulsating through Only Human.
The only other moment we get this burst of vitality is in ‘Firecracker’, a track co-written by Sia and produced by Greg Kurstin, who has done huge records for Lily Allen and Kylie. The track is a wig-snatching and semi comical index-finger waving alert to women eyeing up Cheryl’s man. She warns in about 100 words per minute: “He love a girl who can dance, not a girl with implants and a fake tan, wham bam thank you ma’am! Now I’m lit up like a firecracker. Don’t do well with a man highjacker. My man’s so cool, you know he just flattered. But you better run girl before I catch ya, catch ya!”
Elsewhere, Cheryl lets you have it with a few middle-finger-in-the-air tunes like the new hit single ‘I Don’t Care’, which was co-written by Bonnie McKee (the woman who penned several of Katy Perry‘s biggest hits) and ‘Throwback’, which she astonishingly sings: “I’ve run out of fucks to give you baby. Ain’t got the time to spend on you! Left it all in the past, now I’m over that”.
‘Live Your Life’, a highly-stylised track with icy spoken word vocals and throbbing electro beats. Here Cheryl asks in a rather Madonna-like fashion: “What do you desire, if money was no object?” The song sounds like something that belongs on a Thierry Mugler catwalk or something tailor-made for the opening sequence of her next tour. You can just imagine the flashing lights and fierce video projections, right?
Also quite noteworthy is the involvement of Cheryl’s ex-bandmate, Nicola Roberts, who co-wrote four songs on the album. ‘It’s About Time’ is like Cheryl’s personal ‘I’m Coming Out’ with lyrics about turning over the dark chapters and embracing love again. She sings, “I became untouchable, got colder by the day, dreaming of blue skies. Nothing in my way, just the person in the mirror… it’s about time that I start loving again. It’s about time the sunshine touches my skin.”
The one enduring theme in Cheryl’s music, regardless of how disposable and predictable it may sound sometimes, is her honesty. The songs on Only Human show us different facets to her persona that go a little deeper than the stories you read in showbiz columns. Here you see a headstrong woman who is vulnerable but also, as it appears, in love with life and in love with love like never before.
Stand out tracks: ‘Live Life Now’, ‘I Don’t Care’, ‘It’s About Time’ and ‘Only Human’.