Tuesday, November 13, 2007

You're Breaking My Heart!!!

Every musician or band releases a disappointing album at one point in their career; if not disappointing, then something that doesn't hold up quite to the gold standard that they established for themselves. Usually these complaints are weathered, by dint of the album growing on you or the people in question moving on to better things. But when three of my most well-loved artists released three disappointing albums within a few months of each other, and I listened to them all at nearly the same time, it was a crushing blow. This is the part where I try to reconcile with myself.

3. m-flo - Cosmicolor

Though I touched upon this one briefly in my previous music post, Cosmicolor is an album of many peaks and valleys...mostly valleys. After band member Lisa left them in 2002, their albums revolved entirely around guest singers on the tracks, generally one song per guest singer. These were called the "love" albums; "m-flo loves melody", "m-flo loves Crystal Kay" and the like. Of the three "love albums", Cosmicolor is the longest at a bloated 13 tracks (17 if you count the cheesy skits). It is also the least engaging.

Though the highlights are really great, like the trim and effective Stuck in Your Love and the bangin' Love Long and Prosper, everything on the album is just dragged out to near-anemia. Few songs on Cosmicolor clock in at under 5 minutes. Lotta Love, a fun but uneven Euro track, is nearly 7 minutes long, with little to show for it but unapologetic repetition. Love Song is a Bonnie Pink collaboration that just goes on way too long; Luvotomy doesn't have anything to do but repeat itself after the 2 minute mark. She Loves the CREAM almost gets away with it, but there's a dull-as-hell jazz interlude halfway through that totally kills the momentum of the song. Though it would be tempting to reward the shorter songs on the album for understanding brevity, Love Don't Cry and Simple and Lovely are completely forgettable.

I could see this making a serviceable dance-floor record, but on standalone listens, Cosmicolor just totally falls apart. After the outstanding Beat Space Nine, this is a disappointing, mincing follow-up. m-flo has announced that the "loves" series is dead, and I can't help but feel a little relieved.

Check Out: Stuck in Your Love, Love Long and Prosper, Love Me After 12 AM, Picture Perfect Love

2. KT Tunstall - Drastic Fantastic

Of the three artists profiled in this list, KT Tunstall was the one I was expecting the least from; concurrently, it's the worst of these three albums. Where her debut, Eye to the Telescope, featured grit beautifully waxing to vulnerability and an almost cheeky empowerment, Drastic Fantastic just feels like a melange of underdeveloped emotional hosannas. Half of the songs sound like they should be played behind a medical insurance commercial, and the other half could serve very well in a commercial for a wacky teen drama.

Tunstall herself is not the least bit preoccupied with appeasing her audience. But since it's hardly an artistic triumph at all, I can only wonder what the goal of the album was. Nearly every song is cut from the same mold; play Beauty of Uncertainty and Someday Soon back-to-back and you won't even remember which is which. Hopeless epitomizes the album by sounding agreeable at first and then totally vanishing into the void right after listening to it. Not every song on the album is as elevator-music, though. Paper Aeroplane is as drifty and wistful as the title entails, and I Don't Want You Now embraces Tunstall's more effective upbeat side. Hold On does a great job at actually engaging a listener, the album's main fault...It's no wonder that it's Drastic Fantastic's first single, but expecting much more of its kind from the album would seriously betray a potential buyer. I mean, look at the cover. It looks like something challenging, exciting, epic. Drastic Fantastic is anything but.

Cosmicolor may have been a massively overlong album, but at 39 minutes, Drastic Fantastic is just not enough to satisfy. It's a jangly, cheap little bauble of an alt-pop album with nary a hook in sight. I can only hope that KT Tunstall hasn't landed herself in one-hit-wonder land with ol' Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, but I think she's got enough talent in her to produce something worth listening to again.

Check Out: Hold On, Paper Aeroplane, I Don't Want You Now

1. Bonnie Pink - Thinking Out Loud

This is the true heartbreaker of the list to me. Thinking Out Loud is Bonnie Pink's 10th studio album, and it is the one that cries "Stop this madness!" to me. Her 9th, the divisive Golden Tears, was her most dangerous flirtation with pop. It put a lot of previously unheard elements in Pink's music to the forefront, like synthesizers and really thick production, and though there were a few great songs some people thought it was a change for the worse.

But at least it was a change. Thinking Out Loud is an attempt to combine her previous style with her new artistic direction and the results are absolutely monstrous. The recurring problem on the album is that the melodies are too simple and the production is too overdone, which leaves poor Bonnie in between a rock and a hard place. To no fault of her own, nearly every song on the album is completely uninteresting. Commercializing her intimate, soulful voice has done her very little good.

As far as standouts on Thinking Out Loud, Anything For You is undeniably the strongest song on there. It is a ball of energy and melodic fun, overpowering the tedium by sheer bulldozer force. It's a shame that this song was shoehorned onto the album as its last track; it would have made a much better lead-in than the pointless Gimme a Beat. Sakamichi is like a grungy, sexy younger sister to her seminal groover Senaka. Catch the Sun is listenable, if not cheesy and unaccomplished.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album does little but make itself seem like a waste of time. The most flagrant offender is the Philharmonic Flava rearrangement of her smash single A Perfect Sky, which is...inexplicable. Totally self-indulgent and pointless. A Perfect Sky was one of Bonnie Pink's biggest chart hits, but cramming this bland old dinosaur on the album seems to have been done solely in commercial interest. You probably won't even make it to the chorus on Burning Inside, Nagusami Blue and - wait for this one - "Broken hearts, citylights and just me thinking out loud." She sounds too sharp on the melodramatic Water Me, sleepwalks through Lullaby, and has nothing to do on the horrible Imagination, which sounds like the retarded bastard child of Communication and The Answer.

What I guess comforts me is that Bonnie Pink has plenty of places to run after this debacle. She can return to her pared-down, beautiful melodies, the gems of the past from albums like Even So or Just a Girl, or continue to change herself as an artist and see if she can find a better niche. But she cannot do both, as Thinking Out Loud proves. Right now, what she needs to do is divorce herself from Burning Chicken's overwhelming production and take a little time to sharpen her melodies. Work like this is just upsetting for big fans like me, just because I know she is capable of far better.

Check Out: Anything For You, Catch The Sun, Sakamichi

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