Cher Lloyd's Swagger Jagger is perhaps the most unloved number one in recent memory. Understandably so – it's not just a clunky bunk-up between Black Eyed Peas-aping beats and the melody from Little Donkey, but also strangely defensive for a debut single. "You can't stop looking at me, so get up out my face" is not a line anyone wants to hear from an 18-year-old pop starlet who's supposed to be Living The Dream.
Fortunately, it's quite the worst thing on the X Factor scamp's debut album. Her current single With Ur Love, a bubblegum RnB number that's roughly as easy to resist as a pie sat cooling on your neighbour's windowsill, is more representative. Featuring songwriting contributions from RedOne and sundry graduates of the Max Martin School of Hitmaking, Sticks + Stones offers a veritable clew of earworms wrapped up in glossy pop rap packages.
That's not to say it lacks surprises. Beautiful People, a hook-up with Swedish pop-rockers Carolina Liar, could not inaccurately be described as an "emo power ballad". Dub on the Track is a gutsy dubstep nugget featuring cameos from a trio of grime MCs – enough, one suspects, to make Simon Cowell choke on his grass-fed sirloin. Then there's Lloyd's remake of Buffalo Stance, which is so brazen that it even renames Neneh Cherry's 1988 signature hit Playa Boi.
But there's more to the Syco tyke than chutzpah. Her flow won't set Nicki Minaj's surgically-enhanced buttocks aquiver, but she supplies some nice rhymes here and remains puckish enough to namecheck Mr Bean on Grow Up. Throughout, she's a natural and charismatic vocal presence, so much so that Want U Back even creates a recurring hook from – how to put this? – the sound of her ‘frustrated grunts’.
It all adds up to a sassy, splashy modern pop album that rattles through its 10 tracks in a dash under 35 minutes. And the cherry on top of the icing? That dreaded ‘s’ word, the one that rhymes with "brag", "snag" and, erm, "dog tag", appears on just three of them. --Nick Levine
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Cher Lloyd Sticks + Stones