Within the first ten seconds of opening track 'Want U Back' the entirety of Lloyd’s persona is conveyed to you through a series of vocalisations, a growl here, a giggle there, and before she’s started singing you’re already aware that you’ve got a lovable rebel on your hands. The track follows traditional pop architecture and features a saccharine mix of bubble-gum synths and scratchy guitars that have now become mainstream pop’s weapon of choice when it comes to ‘summer jams’ (see also: Nicki Minaj – 'Starships,' Rita Ora – 'How We Do'), and as that title would suggest, recounts a relationship which the starlet regretted ending.
The high-production pop album flirts with hip-hop and dub step elements throughout its course and even sees Lloyd rapping on a number of tracks. Lyrically, the net is cast wide, with content ranging from boy-crazed love confessions ('With Ur Love'), anthems for BFFs ('Oath'), and the ever-popular topic of ‘haters’ (featured in a number of tracks, including the truly dire 'Swagger Jagger'), all falling under the umbrella of “things that teenagers think about” whilst never really engaging with something too emotionally profound. The sheer effort that has gone into keeping the record free of that ‘parental advisory’ tag whilst trying to maintain Cher’s rebellious persona is something to be commended in itself. Techniques range from the classic: “only saying the beginning of the swear word”, the popular: “repeating an inoffensive word twice” (“we don’t give a what what you say”), to my personal favourite: “saying the offensive word but dropping its pitch, rendering it incomprehensible”.
There are moments of pure pop brilliance: 'Playa Boi' is a Gaga-esque dance floor anthem complete with multiple-part vocal harmonies, pounding kick-drum and maximalist J-Pop style synthesizers. 'With Ur Love' features bouncing bass rhythms and a chorus that is crisp and diamond-sharp, it’s the straight-up pop moments like this that really showcase the artist’s vocal talents as well as being the most sonically rewarding. The more ‘urban’ tracks are where the record falls short, the forays into grime and hip-hop seem insincere, these are genres that require a bit more life experience to be delivered with conviction, and in this case seem reflect a 30-year-old producer’s depiction of teen angst rather than that of Cher Lloyd herself.
Overall, the risk/reward ratio throughout Sticks & Stones is pretty consistent, for every disappointing dub step or grime flirtation, you're rewarded with a piece of pop greatness. There are moments when the lyrics seem to be filling a gap in the music rather than communicating any information, but then again, that could be partially to do with the fact that her target audience doesn’t really include 25-year old, male reviewers.
Sticks & Stones is out now via Epic/Syco Music.