Album Review: Cher Lloyd – ‘Sticks + Stones’

No more than roadkill beneath X-Factor's wheels

I like The X Factor; it’s like wanting to be touched in the worst possible way. With apologies to our editor, Krissi Murison, who once went on telly to explain why she thought the programme represented everything that was wrong with the UK music industry, it’s a fucking great programme, thanks very much.

The merciless editing, the crocodile tears, the APOCALYPTIC! PRESENTATIONAL! STYLE! – there’s something about the show that defies all notions of taste and makes suckers of us all. Trouble is, though, the crown looks to be slipping. A couple of weeks back the tabloids splashed with headlines about the programme’s ratings plummet. That news comes like manna from heaven for those who claim the show pollutes the charts and puts the squeeze on genuinely sourced talent (‘free range’ pop stars, if you will).

But where does all this leave 2010 finalist [a]Cher Lloyd[/a], the feisty 18-year-old with a dubious ‘flow’? Potentially, as a meat chop tossed into a tank full of circling sharks: and the initial signs, we’re sad to report, aren’t promising. On her debut album’s cover, Cher sits upside down (she’s different!) while trussed up in tights adorned with computer keyboard symbols (she’s got the ‘edge’-factor!).

It all kicks off with ‘Grow Up’, a grossly irritating slice of tweenish ragga-pop driven home with are-we-there-yet insistency and, improbably, [a]Busta Rhymes[/a] on ‘Ft’ duties. “We’re gonna be the generation that makes everything explode/And when I say explode, I don’t mean that we’re using bombs!” raps Cher, perhaps rightly doubting our ability to distinguish between reality and metaphor – and gifting us one of the year’s worst lines in the process.

It’s the first of a clutch of tracks here to spew forth a litany of annoying vocal tics in lieu of an actual song. Chief offender in this respect is the still-hideous ‘Swagger Jagger’ and ‘Playa Boi’, which has the temerity to crib from Neneh Cherry and is about as urban as khaki pants bought from Next by your mum.

Still more loathsome is the album’s calculated dip into bulldozing dubstep territory on ‘Dub On The Track’, but when ‘Sticks + Stones’ stops charging about the place like a six-year-old in a Spider-Man jumpsuit with a faceful of Wotsits, there’s evidence to suggest Cher is actually quite good at this pop malarkey. ‘Want U Back’ is a sassy bit of bubble-drunk pop from Britney songwriter Max Martin, while ‘End Up Here’ finds Cher adopting a [a]Beyonce[/a]-aping vocal style with not-at-all-bad results.

A death-knell for pop creativity, then? Er, not really. Still, Cowell’s juggernaut may be stalling, and on this showing, Cher’s not proved herself nimble enough to be more than roadkill beneath its wheels.

Alex Denney