The angsty teenage girl has been one of the core targets of songwriters in search of an audience for decades. Albums such as Carole King’s “Tapestry” had every female high school senior at the time singing “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” the night before graduation. Fast forward a few years and you’ve got Evanescence performing the soundtrack to every Hot Topic wearing teen girl’s Livejournal, along with Taylor Swift singing “Picture To Burn,” threatening to spread rumors about her ex if he won’t shut up. In 2008, the insecure, misunderstood, sometimes vengeful, and all around filled to the brim with emotions female heroine comes in the form of Lesley Roy.
Hailing from Dublin, Roy released her debut album “Unbeautiful” on September 30th via Jive Records. It’s the female empowerment record that the girls who think they’re too old to listen to Miley Cyrus but too young to listen to Alanis Morissette have been waiting for. The album kicks off with the lead single “I’m Gone, I’m Going,” Roy’s best attempt at emulating Kelly Clarkson’s superstar making “Since U Been Gone.” It’s got the same energy and independent spirit, but lacks the vocal power and infectious pop anthem formula that Clarkson provides. That being said, the song is still incredibly catchy, and if you’re a reality TV junkie then you’ve most likely also heard it as the theme to MTV’s “Exiled.” It’s not difficult to picture a 16 year old girl blasting this song in her Jonas Brothers poster splattered room after her crush has moved on to someone else.
The following song “Here For You Now,” is a complete fusion of the two polar ends of pop music. In one hand you have the verses with the edgy, scratchy vocals and heavy versus little instrumentation of a Meg & Dia song. Then in the other hand you’ve got the chorus sounding like cheesy S Club 7-esque pop hooks trying to disguise themselves as rock by adding guitar licks. Regardless of the awkwardness this synthesis of sounds would be assumed to make, it actually works and creates a good balance that evens out the song into a bonafide radio hit.
The lyrics within the title track skip around from pleading to questioning to a self deprecating decision to give up trying to win back Roy’s love. This variety of feelings, however, is not only reflected in her raspy to smooth vocal transitions, but is also consistent throughout the record as whole. When describing it on her website, Roy wrote that “There are a couple of themes that run through the album, evolving around the many different aspects in relationships, whether it is loss of love, not wanting to be in love, trying to help a friend through their own issues, struggling through death of a friend, unrequited love and the happiness and excitement of being in love. There is also a sense of not wanting to be hurt and trying to stand up for yourself after a difficult relationship.” With an entire spectrum of emotions to choose from, the deliberate lyrical unsteadiness of “Unbeautiful” was certainly the most appropriate track to name the album after.
Coming after “Unbeautiful” is the most memorable song on the record, “Psycho Bitch.” The lyrics sound like the thought process Carrie Underwood had after she made her man think twice “before he cheats” again. Hands down the heaviest rock song on the record, Roy lets out her inner jealous ex-girlfriend and confesses to a rancorous outburst. “Bet you never thought that I would be the psycho bitch like the kind of girl that’s gonna smash your headlights” she sing/screams after learning that her former lover is “hookedon someone” other than her. Although in hindsight it can be rather funny to picture the bitter ex lashing out, it makes the listener never want to be on Roy’s bad side, just in case there’s ever an “Even Bigger Pyscho Bitch” on her second album.
Next is “When I Look At You,” the most sexual song on the record. In it, Roy moves from her regular themes of the emotional aspects of a relationship to the physical side. After “drinking cheap wine,” her libido skyrockets and all she can think about how she wants to “get a room” with this sexy “James Dean” like guy. It’s not the album’s finest moment, but it’s a fun song nonetheless. Thing of it as a reject from Ashlee Simpson’s “Bittersweet World” album, in that the lyrics are overly simple and cliché but are still attempted to be sung like there’s substance behind them. However, the placement of this song on the record rounds out Roy’s personality because it demonstrates that she’s not just the somber and misunderstood lonely ex-girlfriend, but that she does in fact have a fun side and there’s more to her than just being a bucket of misery.
Following soon thereafter come the two most lyrically conventional songs on the record. It is almost as though they were written specifically for angsty teen girls to quote in their away messages and scribble throughout their diaries. “Dead But Breathing” sounds literally identical to every Avril Lavigne ballad ever recorded, yet still manages to tug the heart strings a little if you’re willing to move past its overwhelming cheesiness and conformist approach to breaking up. Then there’s “Misfit,” which upon first hearing, one would swear was a Fefe Dobson song from her self-titled album. In a way, the song can serve as a female alternative to The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus’ hit “Face Down.” No, it’s not the story of a man who beats his girlfriend, but rather about the abuse one inflicts upon them self in an attempt to feel alive. “See the one nobody wanted, shattered by a world of lies, see the misfit in the mirror die,” sings Roy. It’s a noble effort on her part to bring awareness to these situations, but I can’t help but not take the song seriously. Even though I’m sure it was written during a very troubled time in her life, the lyrics are just so ridiculously over the top that it sounds like a parody of every emo song ever written. Getting my 20 year old cynical male opinion out of the way though, the song is guaranteed to serve as the music of a few dozen hot pink skull decorated MySpace profiles.
While Roy’s debut album is nothing we haven’t heard a million times before, it’s still a rather decent pop record. Her lack of lyrical originality is made up for with her unique overly raspy voice that allows her to be half rock star and half belting diva. Unless you’re a die-hard fan though, the songs do begin to blend in together and sound the same after a while. They get to the point where you want to throw a Prozac prescription at her and tell her to move on with her life. However, I must give the album credit for completely achieving the goals of appealing to a certain audience demographic, because it can easily be the launching point to Roy’s inevitable stardom amongst outcast teenagers. It just goes to show that with a little emotional overflow and a guitar, you too can make a name for yourself in today’s MTV infused world.
Sophomore slump. It’s every musician’s biggest fear when releasing a follow up to a successful debut record. For some, the second album solidifies their careers and skyrockets them to complete stardom. Take for instance The All American Rejects. They had a hit single with “Swing Swing” from their first album, and then came back a few years later with “Move Along,” which produced three mega-hits for them. That ensured a diehard fan base and established them as one of the biggest and most popular acts in pop/rock today. Then there are other acts like Maroon 5, whose debut garnered four top ten singles, but only managed to have one song from their second album break onto regular mainstream radio rotation. In other words, the second record can make or break a musician, and arguably there’s far more pressure surrounding its release than is the case with a first album.
On September 30th, Joshua Radin released his second album “Simple Times.” A musician who has already made a name for himself by appearing on soundtracks to films such as “The Last Kiss” and television shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Brothers & Sisters,” “One Tree Hill” and “Scrubs,” Radin is known to his fans as the father of the “whisper rock” genre. His soft singing sounds like powerful whispers over luxurious acoustic folk rock. He was asked recently to perform at the wedding of TV personality Ellen DeGeneres, and is known to be one of actor Zach Braff’s best friends. Having found success among fellow celebrities, the question then remained: will he be successful outside of the Hollywood crowd and break into the regular public’s eye?
The answer is “yes.” “Simple Times” surpasses Radin’s already stellar debut “We Were Here” and takes his signature sound to brand new levels. The album begins with “One Of Those Days,” a traditional Radin song that sounds like a good friend trying to comfort you after a long, bad day. His singing and lyrics evoke a conversational tone–so much so that you, the listener, are convinced he understands you. It’s as if he’s offering his shoulder for you to lean on as he serenades you back to a level of comfort.
Following is the lead single, “I’d Rather Be With You,” a mid-tempo song that clearly establishes Radin’s romantic side. It also leaves no doubt why chick flicks and primetime soap operas are eating up his music like candy. It’s a really cute song that talks about all the risks he has to take in his life, mainly allowing himself to fall in love and be with the person the song is written about.
Next comes “Sky,” a duet with fellow singer/songwriter Meiko. It’s another mid-tempo pretty song. However, the demo version of the song that Radin released earlier this year on his “Unclear Sky” EP was far superior to the album version; it should have been the one featured on the record. The demo featured Ingrid Michaelson instead of Meiko and it sounded like a true duet, as the two singers traded verses and then came together to harmonize in the chorus. On the album, Michaelson is replaced by Meiko (who is also phenomenal, don’t get me wrong) and the difference is that the song isn’t as much of a duet so much as Meiko providing background vocals, leaving most of Michaelson’s parts to be sung by Radin. True, it is his CD. But any fan who is familiar with the demo version and the beautiful simplicity of the blending voices may be thrown off by this change. Still, it’s a lovely track–and if you aren’t familiar with the demo, then this song may easily stand out as an album favorite.
The album’s most poppy moment is found in “Vegetable Car,” an upbeat track that deals with lusting after a beautiful eco-friendly stranger. “She drives a vegetable car, Diesel, Mercedes, green, two-door. I barely know who you are. Lisa Loeb glasses, I’d sure like to ask you to stay,” he sings. The lyrics credit her sex appeal to how “green” she is and create a pun based on one of his influences, Lisa Loeb’s biggest song “Stay.” It’s both cute and cheesy, but in the best possible way. After listening to it, you’ll find yourself singing it in the shower to get your day started.
The record then takes a more serious turn, moving from the feel good theme to darker, more sorrowful lyrics. The song “Free Of Me” deals with Radin’s emotional instability and how incapable he is of remaining in a relationship because he will only hurt his lover. He sings about how everything around him is falling apart and how he needs to be alone so as not to bring people down with him. It’s a genuinely sad song in which the listener feels badly for both him and his lover. His raspy voice and soft whisper singing give the illusion of crying, making it hands down the most sincere and raw track on the album.
Following next is “You Got Growing Up To Do,” a heart wrenching duet with songwriting icon Patty Griffin. The deliberate placement of this song directly after “Free Of Me” appears to serve as his lover’s response to the previous track. It’s as though Radin wrote the same story twice, but from the perspectives of the two opposing characters. The lyrics reply to the cry of help in “Free Of Me” by granting understanding and saying that the “best thing I can give to you is for me to go, leave you alone, you got growing up to do.” This gives Radin the space he needs to figure both himself and his life out. It perfectly hits the chord of the tragic realities couples sometimes face when they realize that, even though they might be meant to be together, their timing may be all off.
The album closes with “No Envy, No Fear,” a slow nostalgic track that almost sounds like parental advice about not letting opportunities slip away. The song has a much more dominant folk “twang” about it than the rest of the album, as the acoustic guitar is the featured instrument and gets plucked in ways not previously heard. This fits in well with the storytelling aspect of folk music’s origin. Radin’s “carpe diem” theme serves as his way of projecting his own experiences onto his listeners so that they don’t make the same mistakes he did. He informs us of the pain and heartbreak life might bring us, but that it should not deter us from love or living life as fully as we possibly can.
“Simple Times” is an album perfectly described by its title. It deals with the simplest human emotions and behaviors in ways that are thought evoking, heartbreaking, and inspiring. Radin’s trademark vocals, acoustic music, and sincere lyrics provide the formula for a beautiful folk album that will be long cherished by his fans. It blends just the right amount of everything that should go into songwriting and performance, and should not be missed by anyone who appreciates what it means to be a true artist.
On October 10th, fallen pop-star Britney Spears premiered her brand new music video for “Womanizer,” the lead single from her upcoming “comeback” album, “Circus.” In recent years, the focus on Britney in the mainstream media has completely changed from her music to her embarrassing personal life. Her most recent album did not sell a fraction as well as her previous records, and her career was cited by many to be officially over. Rather than giving up though, Britney is back and on a mission to regain her queen of pop title and position on top of the charts. Her way of doing that is by taking all the things that made her famous throughout the years and combining them all into one stellar music video.
One of the first things a viewer might think after seeing the “Womanizer” music video for the first time is how similar it is to the video for “Toxic,” one of Britney’s biggest songs to date. In both videos, Britney puts on multiple personas and disguises to fool men into getting what she wants, which in both cases is revenge. The nearly identical plotlines collide when dissected. In “Toxic,” she dresses up in an array of costumes and wigs to make her way through and find the toxic poison to punish the man who has been cheating on her. In “Womanizer,” she plays the same character dressing up in various disguises to catch her lover in the act of cheating. She follows him around and tempts him to see how he reacts to other women, and in the end makes him pay for his wrong doing.
Besides the fact that both videos were directed by the same person, yet another similarity between them are the costumes and the various characters Britney plays. In both videos, she shows changes in character by different outfits and hair colors. She goes from the sexy blonde to the vengeful redhead to the mischievous brunette.In “Toxic,” she is completely naked, covered up by strategically placed diamonds, whereas in “Womanizer” she sheds all of her clothes where it is the deliberate placement of her fingers that prevents the revealing of too much. Also alike is her role as a transportation officer, where in one video she is dressed as a flight attendant and the other she is dressed as a limousine driver. By emulating her massive hit, Britney is hoping to recreate the success she once had. It is a stabilizing function to remind her fans and a new generation of pop music listeners that she is a professional performer. It brings clarity to her image as an artist and sex icon, as opposed to her recent tabloid princess status.
The main factor in Britney’s initial claim to fame was not her talent, but rather her sex symbol image. For years, Britney would send shocks through the airwaves with her controversial performances and suggestive attire. Whether it was in a music video that featured her in nothing more than underwear dripping in sweat or a completely topless photo shoot (with her hands carefully placed so nothing was actually showing), Britney’s usage of her own body always kept her in the headlines and at the top of her game. When she lost her sex appeal, however, she lost her high status and her career went downhill from there.
Seeing this downward spiral as a result of letting her body go, Britney knew that the only way to be successful again was to regain her sexy image. The “Womanizer” video intelligently plays on this concept by showcasing her newly toned body and solidifies her as a sex symbol all over again. As sad, corrupt, and anti-feminist as it may seem, nobody wants to see a fat, bald Britney – instead they want slim, sexy, seductive Britney, and the only way for her to be successful is to be that image of every man’s fantasy again. Via sensual body maneuvers and revealing outfits, she uses this video as an outlet to take the already “known to make headlines” tactics from her past, and apply them into making a future.
Britney achieves this goal through her provocative choreography and scantily clad to little costuming. The video opens with shots of her in a sauna, completely naked lying down on a bench. She is glazed in sweat and suggestively rubs her hands all over her body as she begins to sing. Her knees are perched up in the air as she begins to move them closer to her and then stretch them out. The lighting perfectly hits them so that they look like they belong to the flawlessly sculptured body of a Greek goddess. Britney then slowly sways her hips back and forth in a seductive manner that immediately captivates and sucks in her audience. She then thrusts upwards while the camera zooms in on her face, which is being lightly traced by her fingers as her arms are crossed over her breasts. Britney is later seen again in the sauna but this time sitting up, with one arm covering her breasts as the other one rests on her leg, with her hand falling in between her legs in a very sexually evocative manner. Her long hair drapes her back as she flips it over her shoulder and turns around to stare enticingly into the camera.
The “in your face” sexuality of the video continues in an office scene, in which Britney is dressed in sexy work attire. The first shot of her in this outfit is seen as she bends over to drink from a water fountain, with the camera focusing in as her mouth slowly opens to let in the drink and her vibrant red lipstick gets wet. Her low cut top and skin tight leather mini skirt accentuate the idea of the working man’s sexy secretary fantasy. A group of men cat calls her in a degrading manner and crowds around her as she pushes them all aside to get to her lover. When she gets to him, she pushes him down into his seat and proceeds to push all of his supplies off his desk, arch her back on top of it before ultimately kicking him away to leave room for a dance break. Britney bends her knees as she straddles the man in the chair and gets inches away from him. Her teasing choreography is seen a few frames later when the man outstretches his arms from his chair to grab her buttocks (which is bent in front of him), but she grabs his hands before they touch her and throw them away. Similarly, Britney teases her audience by making them think she’s going to go all the way with the sexuality of the video, but instead leaves them hungry and wanting to come back for more. This is both an intelligent marketing strategy as well as a behavior she used in previous videos (such as “I’m A Slave 4 U”) to get people to keep tuning in.
In another scene, Britney is shown as a blazing sexual vixen with red hair in a cut off leather cat suit with her breasts practically pouring out of her top. Her outfit looks like the grown up version of her infamous “Oops! I Did It Again” video red rubber costume. She pulls her lover from the table with his tie, suggesting some sort of aggressive sexual activity, but then proceeds to dance in front of him singing about his degrading womanizing ways. The next shot finds her in a kitchen as she throws her man on top of the counter and mounts him before thrusting back forth and gyrating to the beat of the song. She flips her hair as she lightly picks up a maraschino cherry and plops into her open mouth. Britney pulls out just the stem, which she tied in a knot using her tongue. She places it into the man’s mouth suggesting he too does something to it with his tongue, making them indirectly sexually connected before the actual deed of intercourse occurs.Again, the theme of teasing is seen as the camera then goes to the next shot and the audience can only assume what happened on that table.
After a quick few shots of Britney the limo driver playing seductress in the backseat as her stiletto controls the wheel of the car, we see her back in her apartment in her lingerie. With an open robe that ends only inches past her waist revealing her sexy black bra, Britney for the first time is seen in a sexual light in her own element. She’s no longer playing a character, which is made clear when all the other video personas she portrayed stand behind her before they vanish and only plain Britney is left. It momentarily takes you back to the “Born To Make You Happy” video, where she was in her pajamas in her own room waiting for her boyfriend to call. Enter “Womanizer” ten years later, and she’s waiting for her lover to come home, only to throw him on the bed as if to fornicate, but instead begins to kick him and holds him back as he tries to run away.
The final shot of the video shows Britney symbolically making her bed even though her lover is in it. When she tucks in the sheets, however, he is no longer there. It answers the questions of what exactly Britney is going to do about her cheating lover and provides both her and the audience closure. This message of female empowerment (that staying with someone who cheats is not a healthy decision) solidifies Britney’s original image as someone girls looked up to. Back at the peek of her fame, legions of young girls idolized her and worshiped her every move. Britney memorabilia was scattered across every other bedroom in the country. When she lost her high status, she lost the reasons people had of looking up to her. Now, she gets to take the sexy factor and reapply it to her career, as well as be able to send her fans a message through the art she performs.
When you get used to something it is hard to say goodbye to it. There once was a time where Britney Spears ruled the pop music world. Then out of the blue she went from superstar to super-joke. In an attempt to regain the title she once had, she used essences of old performances to recreate the image of her past. There is nothing that she performed in her new music video that she has not already done in some way or another, but by resorting back to what she knows will culturally put her back at the forefront of her game, she intelligently mapped out a successful comeback strategy. Given the amazing response and #1 chart status of both her new single and video, Britney Spears is living proof that the further you fall, the higher you rise.