Sweet and sour UK pop princess Cher Lloyd deserves both a pat on the back and a word of caution. Her first official U.S. single, the sonically-infectious-yet-lyrically-frightening breakup anthem “Want U Back” has flourished wonderfully. It’s certified platinum, has effectively snuck itself into radio stations and party playlists across the nation, and still has an iron grip on the Billboard Hot 100. Cher Lloyd has gone from a distant UK pop artist to a household name in the states. With one solid American hit, that’s impressive. With one solid American hit, that’s dangerous. Why? I’m glad you asked.
Lloyd is one bad step away from toppling into the talent-laden yet unfortunately misplaced pit of British pop artists. Scores of UK musicians – particularly young females – have had a few relatively successful tracks sweep across the United States before they faded back into anonymity. Lily Allen is one of the most undeserving members of this group, closely followed by The Fratellis, The Ting Tings, Mika, and Kate Nash. One UK starlet that Lloyd almost perfectly parallels is the hip-pop artist Lady Sovereign, who only had one hit before she disappeared to god knows where. Though their successes happened almost 7 years apart, “Want U Back” isn’t much different than “Love Me Or Hate Me.” Both hits are slathered with sticky pop beats, overflow with shallow lyrics, utilize bratty schoolgirl “rapping” and are obnoxiously catchy. Granted, “Love Me Or Hate Me” never even broke the Billboard top 40, while “Want U Back” still has a steadfast hold at #30 (it peaked at an impressive #12). Therefore, it would be unfair to condemn Cher Lloyd to that fate already. What stands between her and Sovereign’s “untimely end” is her debut album, Sticks & Stones. It’s only about a month away from its first birthday in the U.K., but Lloyd has waited until this week to release its U.S. counterpart. Does the American edition of Sticks & Stones have the right stuff to secure Lloyd more ubiquitous hits? Let’s break it down and find out (yeah, you knew this was coming)!
Sticks & Stones opens with “Want U Back,” throwing the listener into the plump synth burps, frustrated (constipated?) grunts, and Lloyd’s delightfully audacious attitude. Though it’s a bit risky for Lloyd to put her only hit at the beginning of the album, it’s a good way to let listeners know what to expect from Sticks & Stones. This is a freshman debut with a whole lot of personality and hooks.
“Grow Up” serves as a fantastic follow-up track to “Want U Back.” This slickly produced club-ready hip-hop jam has a spark of Caribbean flare to it, and it’s here we get to see Lloyd show off her quick-fire rapping for the first time on the album. Lloyd creates a cool dichotomy with her verses, deftly spitting shotgun lines void of curse words or innuendo. She never even stops for breath, going straight from boasting her talent to proclaiming her joyous youth, delivering some fantastic one-liners along the way. “We ain’t never gonna grow up, we just wanna get down” opens up the chorus amongst a rioting crowd of loud synthesizers, and she brightens up the second verse when she drops the lyric “I’ma’ finish off all these MCs like they were my cup of tea!” Busta Rhymes jumps in for his verse in the bridge, proving that he’s just as capable of a pop feature as he was in “Look At Me Now” and “Dontcha.”’
“With Ur Love” is the third track on the album and Cher Lloyd’s second potential U.S. single, already enjoying top-10 chart success in the United Kingdom. The British version of the track has American crooner Mike Posner taking the helm of the bridge with his raspy pop verse, but Posner is nowhere to be found in the U.S. edition. It’s hard to tell if Posner’s absence is a blessing or curse. Regardless Cher still shines with this adorable, juvenile love song. If you want a full (and long) review of this track, we reviewed it a few months ago!
Cher Lloyd’s next track “Behind The Music” is a kind of watered down, mid-tempo version of “Swagger Jagger,” a later (and significantly sassier) track on the album. That’s not to say that “Behind The Music” is a bad song, however. Cher stretches her vocal chops over a simple piano riff, creating a kind of inspirational, be-true-to-yourself anthem that centers around her musical career. Lloyd’s lyrics, though a bit scatterbrained at times, ring with a general measure of honesty. The track does fit, since Lloyd has been the center of criticism ever since she stepped onto the stage of the British X-Factor. However “Behind The Music” stands as one of the weaker tracks on the album thus far.
“Oath” is a sugarcoated ode to true friendship. Featuring up-and-coming teenage rapper Becky G., “Oath” could be in the running for Lloyd’s next single. With the over-the-top hooks and tight production, it’s a definite contender. The song vibes cheerfully with a beachy electric guitar, as Lloyd and Becky G. profess their undying camaraderie through a mix of polished rapping and singing. By the way, doesn’t that pre-chorus melody sound familiar? Well played, Madame Lloyd. Well played.
“Swagger Jagger” destroyed the UK Official Singles Chart a little over a year ago, crashing into the #1 spot and bringing Cher Lloyd equal amounts of praise and scorn. With a behemoth dance record this brash, it’s clear that you either love or hate “Swagger Jagger,” there is no in-between. Rowdy, loud, and in-your-face, “Swagger Jagger” catapults you into the biohazardous synth blasts and floor smashing drum beat. Lloyd sticks out her tongue and mocks her haters, flaunting her own personal “swag.” She barks, “you can’t stop lookin at me, so get up out my face!” She employs the tune from the ballad “Oh My Darling, Clementine” in the chorus, effectively creating a gleeful, sarcastic, child-like tone that’s not as much of a “f*** you!” as it is a “na na na na na, you can’t get me!”
“Beautiful People” is the first real slow-jam on the album, and American alt-rock band Carolina Liar joins Lloyd for this mournful pop ballad. Cher Lloyd and Chad Wolf trade off verses over a steady 808 beat and fuzzy piano keys, both decrying their respective ex-lovers and their irresistible glamor. The lyrical theme is impressively heavy-handed, and Lloyd takes this opportunity to show that she does have some pretty notable vocal prowess. However, the fluffy instrumentation dulls the sharp edge of the track. If “Beautiful People” were stripped down to a simple piano ballad, Lloyd and Wolf’s vocals and lyrics would truly shine.
The next track, “Playa Boi” is a straight slice of disco-fed 80’s pop, with a bit of crunchy dubstep-influence thrown into the verses and bridge. Lloyd turns back up the snark with this track, laying out exactly what kind of man she wants in her life. “Playa Boi” is one of the strongest points in the album, both sonically and lyrically. It’s fun, refreshing, sassy, and Lloyd seems a bit more at home amongst the glitzy dubstep stutters and shimmering pop beat.
“Superhero” skips along without any real direction, filled with a repetitive violin-based synth loop and a foot tapping drum beat. Cher kind of lackadaisically floats through the track, her vocals lacking their usual sturdiness and bite. She spices up the bridge with some of her quick rapping, but even that’s not enough to give the track that eye opening pop presence that previous album tracks have exhibited.
Sticks & Stones closes with the track “End Up Here,” a mid-tempo, 80’s brushed breakup track. “End Up Here,” while not necessarily a bad song, is a poor choice to end out Sticks & Stones. It gives the album a rather weak and unfinished close, with Cher lamenting over a failed relationship rather than boasting her successes. “Behind The Music” probably would have been a better closing track. Regardless, “End Up Here” finishes out one of the stronger pop albums of the year thus far. It’s definitely a solid freshman debut, and hopefully with its gloss and glitter, Sticks & Stones will land a few more top 40 hits for Lloyd. The album drops this Tuesday, October 2nd. Be sure to pick it up on iTunes or Amazon!