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 /
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: