How things have changed for Cheryl Cole. At one time she was an alleged scourge of toilet attendants, and the centre around which Girls Aloud apparently nearly crumbled. A few tears later, the PR gold of a husband that played at home and away, and a few doe-eyed appearances on The X-Factor have elevated Cole to national treasure status. With her underwhelming first single Fight For This Love selling by the tonne, Cole’s burgeoning success is not far off Dianafication.
The Ashley Cole Affair was arguably the turning point for Cole in the affections of the public. Coming out fighting and showing a stiff upper lip bought her more kudos than the four Number 1 singles and any number of musical achievements with Girls Aloud. As such, 3 Words is, predictably, an album obsessed with love. Cheryl’s either in or out of love, crying about love, fighting for love, or battling some outside force that threatens her love. The misery of love is everywhere.
Rain On Me finds Cole in a pop version of Flight Of The Conchords‘ I’m Not Crying, It’s Just Raining On My Face. “I won’t give you the pleasure to see me breaking,” she sings, “I won’t give you the victory,” once again showing her strength, despite having something in her eye and being unintentionally hilarious. Make Me Cry finds her asking “are you trying to make me cry? – I’m dying” whilst also stating “I don’t want to lose you” in an outpouring similar to that of a terminally confused affection junkie.
Happy Hour utilises a clunky metaphor equating love to alcoholism. “I’m never happy when I’m sober” she coos over a sanitised Eastern flavoured backing track. Perhaps an intervention is called for.
The subtext of Don’t Talk About This Love should keep Ashley Cole awake at night. It might be a caution about discussing relationships with the media as much as it could be the whispered warnings to be careful to a bit on the side. If there’s any doubt about Cheryl’s feelings regarding love, then the three words she sums it up with here lay them to rest: “love is brutal”.
Unfortunately there’s little else in the way of lyrical depth, so those looking for real autobiographical gems will be disappointed. It’s down to solid pop tunes to fill in any gaps, which should be no problem for a member of one of the most successful UK pop acts. Yet there’s little in the way of glitter strewn anthems either.
The exception is Parachute, which features Cole’s best vocal and a deftly orchestrated production that mixes R’n'B graciously with one of the few big pop hooks on show. Fight For This Love is curious in its lack of immediacy despite being the lead single, although it does eventually achieve ear worm status through sheer repetition. Boy Like You and Taio Cruz‘s contribution Stand Up are lightweight Europop cheese, serving as disposable filler rather than floor filler.
Producer Will.I.Am‘s contributions are, for the most part, utterly bland and lacking in bite. The sanitised R’n'B of Heaven is embarrassing with a generic construction that feels as if he went to a superstore and it took it off the shelf. There’s a trade-off between Cole and Will here that is crass enough to cause listeners to eat their own ears.
The inclusion of Will.I.Am’s Heartbreaker at the end of the album defies belief. Cole makes a 30 second appearance as a backing vocalist and, with that, her contribution is over. What kind of message does being relegated to backing singer status on your own album send out?
Vocally, Cole is adequate throughout and, with no room for bombast, she keeps it straight. For the most part she’s fairly unremarkable, but then the material her producers have provided her with is far from outstanding. The blame for that lies not with Cole directly; in the style of The X-Factor, a severe ticking off is cast in the direction of her advisors.
3 Words will be a massive success, but in terms of content it’s a disappointment. Swamped with half realised production, R’n'B-lite tunes and never really taking any chances, Cheryl’s playing it safe. When are Girls Aloud coming back?