For about a month now, U.K. X-Factor finalist Cher Lloyd and her debut American single “Want U Back” has stuck to my eardrums like a piece of gum on the sidewalk. Buoyed by a “Party in the USA”-esque beat and Lloyd’s singsong vocals, “Want U Back” is a contradictory pop song, but God, is it catchy. (The lyrical bent of the song – Lloyd needs to get her spurned lover back, because he doesn’t have it as good with his new chick – would make The Spice Girls and their girl-power platform run for the exits…but that beat!)
“Want U Back” is so catchy, in fact, that it just about paints the 19-year-old Lloyd into a corner. Her peppy schtick – big beats, rap-sung rhymes, sudden vocal pitch-shifting – got pretty old before she claimed a piece of it herself. So how is her debut album Sticks + Stones, released nearly a year ago in England but making its debut on U.S. shores this week, tailored for the fickle American public?
The answer: SEX. The pastel-graffiti motif of Lloyd’s British album and single covers are replaced with salacious winks and heaving bustiers. Of course, the album itself is remixed and reorganized, too – Mike Posner is stripped off the Shellback-produced “With Ur Love,” and two forgettable tracks are replaced by two equally forgettable ones, including tepid Dr. Luke-produced single “Oath.”
Sticks + Stones never truly hits egregious pop levels, save for debut U.K. single “Swagger Jagger,” where Lloyd’s flow gets a little mushier than usual. (The inane chorus, recalling the melody to “Oh My Darling Clementine,” doesn’t help either.) Tunes like “With Ur Love” and “Superhero” are pleasant enough, and “Grow Up,” a fast-paced pro-youth anthem with a guest verse from Busta Rhymes, is silly fun.
But nothing comes close to the delirious pop of “Want U Back,” and that’s a shame. Nobody’s expecting Sticks + Stones to reinvent the wheel, but there’s too much of what works alright and too little of what works brilliantly. I wouldn’t count Cher Lloyd out forever, but she’ll certainly have to swing a little harder next time around.