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Music Review: Ingrid Michaelson – Everybody

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While tween queen bees Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift currently rule the musical universe, maturing pop princesses like Ingrid Michaelson fight for their right to join the playtime party.

Michaelson’s latest injection of pappy pop (or is it poppy pap?) is Everybody. It was released August 25, almost two years after her breakout record, Girls and Boys, made her an artist "You Oughta Know" (at least on VH1) who was cherished by geeky girls and freaky boys alike.

Everybody isn’t for everybody, though, particularly anybody looking for an escape from pure pop hell. Michaelson is one in a long line of ivory ticklers or acoustic guitarists flooding the market, from Sara Bareilles to A Fine Frenzy’s Alison Sudol to Colbie Caillat to anyone else who thinks they paid their dues by spending a night or two at the Hotel Cafe. What hath Sarah McLachlan wrought?

McLachlan, whose gloriously golden pipes and pleasant piano and guitar playing led to the creation of Lilith Fair and tons of hapless imitators, better come back soon and show these preening pretenders to the throne how it’s done. Or else lock the door and throw away the keyboard.

Michaelson, who began a fall headlining tour August 31, aims to take it seriously on the cover of this latest effort by removing the glasses that initially became her trademark. Even the peppy tunes that began showing up on hit TV shows (Grey’s Anatomy) and annoying commercials (Old Navy) didn’t receive nearly as much attention.

Michaelson’s independent spirit may be worth applauding (she has her own label, Cabin 24 Records), and she adds ukulele, acoustic guitar and organ to her musical repertoire here. She even wrote all 12 songs and had a hand in band and string arrangements as well as production chores.

Maybe she should have asked for a little more help.

There’s simply nothing on Everybody as satisfying as “The Way I Am,” the catchy and significant single off Girls and Boys that found its way into Top 40 radio and the public’s consciousness in 2007.

Playing to her strengths perhaps too often, Michaelson spreads the love all around her lyrics. There’s “Incredible Love,” “Once Was Love” and then the chillingly cute chorus of on the title track.

Everybody, everybody wants to love /

Everybody, everybody wants be to loved /
Oh oh oh /
Oh oh oh

Oh … no … mo’. It leaves an aftertaste as sweet as sugar and as artificial as saccharin. And while her voice may be considered delicate or fragile, on songs such as “So Long” and “Men of Snow” it comes across just as shrill and grating as anything Tiny Tim (“Tiptoe Through the Tulips”) let loose on a bad hair day.

At least the orchestration (violins, viola, cello from numerous contributors) comes to the rescue for one brief, shining moment. On “Sort Of,” those sounds beautifully complement one of the inexplicably few piano-driven numbers. The lively “Mountain and the Sea” and the bolder “Soldier,” where Michaelson discovers her inner Tegan and Sara while playing the role of a warrior who “knows the battle with the heart isn't easily won,” also prove there is more to this ho-hum love story.

Unfortunately, those junior achievements are few and far between. While “Turn to Stone,” was a remarkable contribution to a critical episode of Grey’s Anatomy this season, the contemplative keeper doesn’t appear here. Instead, there’s “Locked Up,” another love-gone-wrong song where the protagonist searches for her heart. “If I was 17 I could find it in-between / The cushions of somebody's couch,” she writes, knowing those teen years are only a memory and fodder for weak melodrama.

As Michaelson quickly approaches thirtysomething, though, here’s hoping she also realizes it’s OK to grow up a little and admit it when you’re too pooped to pop.

See the official video of “Maybe” from Ingrid Michaelson’s Everybody:

About Michael

  • banannie

    I don’t think you gave this record a close enough listen – or if you did – then you are purposely majoring on minor points and supporting your observed “flaws” with misdirection. The simplest example being your very introduction comparing Michaelson to Cyrus. “Pop” music spans such a wide spectrum, it’s unjust (or just lazy) to try to lump IM’s folk pop in with MC’s disney pop. Michaelson’s attention to detail from thoughtful lyrics to musical orchestration (which you rushed past in exchange for harping over lines about love) sets her far apart from Cyrus’s canned sound and transparent lyrics. But then – a review filled with cheap comparisons, overextended alliteration, and trite similes might feel a kinship with the superficial material of said pop princesses and might find it difficult to delve deeper into an album. I would recommend, though, grabbing your swim goggles and heading out past the shallows.

  • scott

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I gotta say that I have never thought of Michaelson as pap. Her stuff has always had a pretty dark edge to it. Even this album which has a couple of more upbeat – though not wholly sunny – tracks has plenty of darkness to balance that out.

    Witness:

    Just because there once was love
    Don’t mean a thing, don’t mean a thing
    Just because there once was love

    I gotta see if I’m filled up when it’s only me
    It’s not your fault but you just can’t be here
    Now that my heart has gone, now that my heart has gone
    Now that my heart has gone

    Just because there once was love
    Don’t mean a thing, don’t mean a thing

  • Rachel

    Wow…what a terrible review. I completely agree with banannie’s comments. Comparing Michaelson to Cyrus is ridiculous as they are completely different styles of music (if you took the time to actually listen to it). I don’t think “Party in the USA” is even in the same ballpark as anything on the “Everybody” album. Her lyrics are simple but carry much depth. The fact that she is writing all the music and playing most of the instruments herself says a lot in today’s world of “pop” I think. She is as she puts it herself “bringing it back to the music.” I also feel that the more you really open yourself up and pay attention to what Michaelson is putting out there, the more you appreciate and enjoy it. Again, terrible review.

  • Michael

    Sorry to disappoint, guys, but I was similarly disappointed with Michaelson’s effort. And, if you pay closer attention to the review, I don’t compare her to Miley Cyrus, it’s just a reference. And trust me, I listened to this CD at least eight times before writing a word. I really was looking forward to it, especially after hearing “Turn to Stone.” I bought the single the next day after hearing it on Grey’s Anatomy. Based on her previous work, it’s obvious Michaelson can do a lot better. That’s all I’m saying.

  • Blake

    Have to agree with the other comments here. Even mentioning Michaelson and Cyrus in the same review (even in reference) shows a bad grasp of the current state of music. Also, the outdated Tiny Tim reference doesn’t help your cause much either.

    It is okay to say you were expecting more, but your points of why you didn’t like this album are just random and not well supported. If you have listened to her past efforts (and it seems you have), “Everybody” is pretty much inline with everything else she has produced. I actually thought it was a more polished effort than anything she has done in the past. The arrangements were much more layered and complex than her previous songs.

    Everybody has there opinion, but the way you presented this review totally undercut any valid points you might have.

  • Sasha G

    I completely agree with these comments. You definitely were not listening to the same album. Your arguments were only supported by childish and uneducated examples, which leads me to believe that you need to grow up and admit that you are too pooped to write a decent review. Maybe, you should have stuck with sports.

    You have interpreted her love themed songs to “love-gone-wrong,” and you have to ask yourself, does love only have one form? One form, which I believe is the only one you are aware of. Your opinions are very biased. Here’s a lesson for you, songs about love have never always been sappy and lovey-dovey, take a look into that, will you?

    And another thing, your reference to Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift as people who “rule the musical universe,” is very biased and questionable. It seems as if you are stating your musical preference rather than actually reviewing the album itself. Here’s another fact for you to learn, they do not rule the music industry.

    P.S. Your review sucks.

  • Haley

    I’m blown away by this review… and not in a good way. I understand listening to an album with a critical ear, but I don’t agree with most of what you said. When an artist writes their own music and lyrics it unsurprisingly imitates their personal experiences. So who cares if she writes a lot about love and relationship woes, if you want an honest record from an artist you got it. I also feel that her composition and production are great especially for only her second big release.

  • beast o burden

    I only have one comment, cause you’re entitled to your own opinion about the record…it’s art and thus naturally subjective.

    BUT.

    It irritates me that you say these girls are “flooding” the market. There’s literally 10 times as many acoustic guitar wielding and piano tinkling guys out there and nobody ever says they’re flooding the market like they’re just a passing fancy. As a woman in the music business, this has always irked me…and i’m not even a crazy feminist. Maybe for once women are making it past the cutting room floor and that should be celebrated instead of dismissed out of hand.

  • banannie

    “And, if you pay closer attention to the review, I don’t compare her to Miley Cyrus, it’s just a reference.” Seriously? Yes, you’re referring to the “musical universe” in which Cyrus and Swift are “queen bees” and where Michaelson is fighting to join the “party”. The word ‘comparison’ does not have to be present in order to create one. When you insinuated that Swift and Cyrus are at the top of music game and that Michaelson is not even in it (the use of the word “join” implies that she’s not part of it), that sets up a com-par-i-son. When you take a common denominator (the musical universe) and position C&S in relation to it and position Michaelson in relation to it – that’s comparing them!

  • Trmptgrl

    I beg your pardon for the blunt language but this review positively sucked. I say this not just because I am a fan, but because I am also a musician myself. I listen to a lot of music daily. Some great, some not so good but Ingrid’s music is the best of the best. The music doesn’t come from somewhere that will sell but from somewhere that is genuine. We have all felt what she is singing about. If you haven’t and can’t connect with the music then turn it off, don’t write dribble about it.

    You become positively rude at some points in the review. Do you really need to resort to ankle-biting? Maybe we should try that to you and see if that makes us feel any better about ourselves:

    You sir, do not know what you are talking about. How did you become a critic of music?

    I can write those words to you to diminish your writing talents but that does not increase my own. Remember that the next time you rip on an artist/album. You will not become any less of an untalented listener or musician by writing that other people are no good at it.

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    Mildly intrigued by the arguments above, I checked out Ingrid Michaelson on Spotify and was significantly unmoved by her pretentiously shallow lyrics and unadventurous music.

  • http://www.joelamour.com Joseph

    She’s a twenty-something female… what else is a single girl gonna write about other than love? Death? Oh wait- she does beautifully, on “Men of Snow”. Also, I see “The Chain” becoming as played as “The Way I Am” as an off-beat love song that paints a unique view of modern relationships.

    By the way, Ted Casablanca has gotten you beat on convoluted sentences that reveal no actual information.

  • http://www.riddledphantasms.com R.P.M.

    Micheal, what I do not understand is how you can call this pappy pop or whatever that is supposed to mean.

    You seem to be taking a pretty misogynistic stance towards women’s music, “What hath Sarah McLachlan wrought?” as that basically makes no sense in 2009?

    Blaming Sarah McLachlan for Alison Sudol (A Fine Frenzy), who has 1.3 million twitter fans making her the 7th most followed musician in the world, or Ingrid Michaelson whose top song on MySpace has 8.5 million more listens than Dave Matthews top song and a tour that is half sold out before it starts, well that is like blaming Nirvana for Coldplay (similar era gap and popularity on Billboard Top 200).

    Maybe in a way easier for an ex-baller to understand, it is like blaming the Charles Cason (from the Texas HS system and the inventor of the wishbone offense in the 50s as many including Barry Switzer) for the Spread option used today by Urban Meyer.

    I guess what I am saying is they are non-sequitur and I am hoping that the football analogy about the wishbone that dates back to your playing days might not be lost on your love the way the game is played today.

    Also what I don’t get is how a man who gets his music faves from Grey’s Anatomy soundtracks (yes that is where Tegan and Sara got their names heard as that reference wasn’t as sly as it might come off), can be so demanding of what Sarah McLachlan hath whatever lol.

    I am curious though, when you are spending Thursday night glued to a night of Izzy and George, do you miss the great college football on ESPN? Is this your inner “Tegan and Sara” coming out or something else?

    I’m just saying you seem to miss the good of this album that millions of other seem to like? There is an analogy that I feel fits the Meredith Gray slipper quite well here as it regards your take on what clearly is a well received album by people who buy albums and not just one hitters off of Network poster child music soundtracks (HBO is far better in that realm btw…I would seriously recommend getting cable and listening to a few Sopranos, True Blood and Entourage soundies if that is your bag).

    The analogy goes like this: A man wakes up one day and finds another man is calling him a horse. He immediately dismisses this man as a fool.

    The next day he find 5 people are calling him a horse and while he still calls them fools he begins to wonder what is up.

    The third day 10+ people are calling the man a horse. At this point there is just one thing left for him to say, “Where can I buy a decent saddle?”

    Better luck in the future and I hope that like Vanilla Sky, you too might “abre los ojos” and see what makes the spread option popular versus what doesn’t. Given your record with reviews, I’ll chalk this one up to a mulligan and pray you aren’t a Big Ten or Pac Ten guy :)…if you get a chance check out the guy she is bringing on tour with her – Greg Holden. Think Joseph Arthur meets John Martyn.

    Cheers.

    - R.P.M.

  • Michaela

    I’ve read through all the comments on this board, and have thoroughly agreed with approximately 98% of them. Here are some choice words I feel best describe your review, if the other commenters will pardon my co-opting theirs:
    misogynistic
    outdated
    unfair comparison
    superficial
    sucked.
    does that make it clear enough for you?
    ingrid michaelson is a true artist with real talent, and although you can’t seem to appreciate her album for its great worth, you view it as acceptable to pass judgement and decide what we all must believe.
    shame on you for putting these negative words out for less-informed ingrid listeners to read. i’d hate to think that you’d turned them off from a fantastic artist who has integrity, unlike some people you see as “ruling the music universe”.
    please, just get over yourself.

  • Tessa

    I’m happy to see that many other readers have already illustrated (far better than I could) my main points. Your comparisons in this article illustrate that perhaps you should critique some genre other than music. You do not seem to have a basic grasp of the not-so-subtle differences between pop styles and artists or understand the fact that just because two girls play the piano doesn’t mean they are exactly the same or that one is copying the other. You sound surprised to hear that Michaelson wrote “all 12 songs” on her new album. This should not come as a surprise. Singer-songwriters WRITE MUSIC. It’s there in the name. And while it’s nice that you are so enamored with Sarah Mc’s voice, it’s time to understand that it is a different decade and that women are, in fact, allowed and able to create their own music and play actual instruments. This does not make them imitators, it makes them musicians.

  • Anna

    Michaelson’s music is unique, especially compared most of the samey stuff in the charts today.
    This isn’t a reveiw – it’s a completely unfounded attack on one of the most individul singer/songwriters out there.

  • Ben

    Alright-ish review, raises some good yet some bad points. The real things that caught my eye were not necessarily the things said within the review, but more so within the comments section.

    I don’t understand how people are discrediting the claim that Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift rule the music universe, technically speaking, according to album sales and air time (common barometers for success in this case) – they do. He is not talking about ability, its so obvious. I don’t understand how people did not pick that up.

    There are some almost unbelievably silly, silly arguments by some of the other people here. I can’t even be bothered to go over them, they just made me shake my head and sigh. Shocking.

  • Dingo

    I have never been inspired to post a comment on something so ridiculous as an old music review before. I have to say I agree with most of this review, and most of the people commenting on this have utterly no clue.

    I loved Michaelson’s first album. It was full of catchy songs, some thoughtful introspection (though at times immature and juvenile) and didn’t pretend it was a Vincent Van Gogh when it was closer to a Thomas Kinkade.

    This new album is exactly like the people who have been commenting in support of it. A sad compilation of pretentious coffeeshop philosopher babble combined with the mistaken notion that a piano and acoustic guitar played with sloppy technique is enough to make music unique.

    All these ad hominem arguments (“lol ur outdated cause u know of tiny tim”) fail to address the simple fact that Ingrid Michaelson is trying, and failing, to be the pop star that she isn’t.

    News flash, Ingrid: getting rid of your hot nerd girl glasses will not transform you into a VERY SRS ARTIST. Doubly so if you accompany the image change with this pile of tired drivel. I am disappoint.