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Music Review: Katharine McPhee

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When contestants belt their hearts out on American Idol, it's become almost as fun to anticipate not only what kind of album they're going to make once the show is over but how the public will like them when they're not singing someone else's songs as it is to watch the show.

Katharine McPhee is really the first American Idol contestant that truly looks like an American Idol. Carrie Underwood is quite beautiful, but Katharine is a bombshell. So I'm sure RCA felt they had a potential goldmine in signing this girl to their label — someone who could so easily fit into today's pop market.

Katharine's self-titled debut surely does fit into today's pop market, as does her look, but I think the sound of her CD is going to come as quite a shock to most people who voted for her on American Idol, and even those who didn't. The album boasts a multitude of pop tracks: some uptempo dance songs like the fun and funky soundtrack-bound "Love Story;" some midtempo, like the infectious "Not Ur Girl" and catchy premiere single "Over It;" and some beautiful ballads like the soulful "Better Off Alone" and "Each Other."

It's interesting reading a lot of reviews of the album, most reviewers barely even mention the tracks on the record. It's usually an overall criticism of the direction she went, her personality, or just some mess that doesn't really make any sense that they cut and pasted from comments someone made on a gossip blog.

That's not to say the album is perfect, but judging from some of the early reviews you'd think McPhee delivered a dud and for a debut album, this is anything but. Hell, I would have preferred to have her sing an album full of jazz standards and Barbra Streisand type ballads too, but the reality is that if she had done that, she would've flopped – faded faster than Taylor Hicks' hair – and that would've been the end of the McPheever. Katharine knows what she's doing, and at least if she was going to make a pop, R&B, and dance record, it's good that she made a very enjoyable one.

And maybe after she's gained some clout with the success of this album, she can pull a Christina Aguilera and do something still pop but much more experimental on the next one. With all of that said, there are many tracks on this album that you'll have on repeat, and some which might make you chuckle.

"Do What You Do," though a fun track, is something that Fergie should've recorded and then rejected from her album because it wasn't good enough. And the fact that Katharine McPhee, the "Somewhere Over The Rainbow Girl" is singing it, makes it that much more laughable. The JoJo-ish "Over It" is a catchy song, but it's also quite generic and bland. "Open Toes" is an okay dance track that's got a lot of attitude, and Katharine claims the gays will love it. But I've heard an amazing extended remix of it that really just should've been the track on the album, and I have a feeling the gays will love it more.

"Better Off Alone" is one of the most gorgeous pop ballads I've heard in years. McPhee knows how to seduce you with her lower register that could both lull a baby to sleep and make any red-blooded man (or woman for that matter) in love with her in a matter of seconds.  RCA will have done her a major injustice if this song is never a single.  "Neglected" showcases impressive Mariah Carey-esque vocals I didn't even know McPhee posessed, and I've seen every single episode of American Idol since season one. 

There are a few vocal misfires however.  Like on American Idol, Katharine uses her higher register entirely too liberally, and it's painful.  She only uses it on a few tracks, but she needs to learn that her voice can't go there — at least not yet.  It sounds high-pitched and shrill, and for someone who is very often above or below the pitch in live performances, that's the last thing she wants to risk sounding like.

It's also notable, that a lot of the album is very reminiscent of popular R&B from previous decades.  Songs like "Each Other", "Everywhere I Go", and "Neglected" all sound like songs from the '90s by artists like Monica and SWV that I wish were still being made today.  I never thought it would come along in the package of a tall white girl with a beautiful smile and boobs great enough to turn me straight.  Then there's the undeniably hypnotic '80s-sounding Nate Hills produced track "Dangerous" that's just that — dangerous.  I listened to it once before the album came out, and the rest of the night was spent repeating the song and dancing around in my basement with my cheap disco ball pretending I was in a club.

What's funny is that this girl from American Idol who many probably won't take seriously for years to come, showed up and outsang most of the pop and R&B divas of today with halfway decent material.  Her voice has the soul of Kelly Clarkson, with a tone that could potentially rival the great Whitney Houston's (another track from the album, "I Lost You", was originally recorded for Whitney's upcoming comeback album) with enough work, yet the emotion and phrasing of greats like Eva Cassidy and Barbra Streisand.  She's got lightyears to go as a live performer, and it'll be interesting to see if she steps up the plate and really takes creative control on her next album with both a new direction and doing more of the writing herself. 

It's all up to Katharine.  But thus far, she's shown enough potential to be one of the most promising young vocal talents since the debut of Christina Aguilera in 1999.

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About Chris Evans

  • onegoal

    Mcphee is such a amazing girl! Shes going to be a big star!!

    I also think shes the prettiest girl in the world!!

    Oh McPhee!!!!! I wish I had a gf like her!!!!!

  • renee

    Nothing special, just another kid-pop-princess. Just thought she was different before, guess not!!

  • Kat

    This is not a terrible album, granted. And people will either like or dislike the brand of vague, schoolgirl-diary-entry bubblegum pop she’s peddling. But I do disagree with two things. First, the negative reviews I’ve seen (at least the ones from legitimate publications) HAVE focused on her music, and no, not everyone likes it or thinks its good. And second, Katharine can sing as many ballads as she wants with technical perfection, but her voice is completely devoid of soul and emotion. She knows all the tricks in the book, but I don’t confuse her techical prowess with any kind of understanding of, or passion for, what she’s singing. Perhaps, though, that can be learned with age and experience. Katharine has stated that her album is a reflection of her relationships and life experiences. If that’s true, then she’s blissfully INexperienced, and I can understand why she has such difficulty pouring any emotion whatsoever into her songs.

  • idolfan

    Just a general comment. Anybody that listened to this girl sing “Over the Rainbow” and “Someone to Watch Over Me” on AI last year, and has heard her sing “Better Off Alone” and “Ordinary World” on her album, and still says that her songs are devoid of soul or emotion—–doesn’t have a soul themselves.
    That comment is getting old, and I think it’s just something that people say because they heard somebody else say it. And it’s too bad, because nothing could be further from the truth.

  • Mickey

    #4…I agree 100% with your comment. Katharine is an artist and could emote the songs Better Off Alone, Ordinary World and Home through her voice without even seeing her. On AI, she displayed all of these emotions perfectly of course during the two performances you mentioned before and the tigress that she was with the unforgettable I Have Nothing performance. Katharine is still young and I am not in a hurry to see her grow up into the more matured style of singing. She’s got plenty of time for that. She is showing her versatility and her true persona in her cd and her single is climbing up the charts steadily. Congratulations to Katharine.

  • Kat

    #4–Gosh, I guess you’re right. Yes, it must be that my personal opinion about Katharine’s robotic singing style means that I, myself, am a horrible, soulless person. Thanks; I needed a laugh tonight.

    I will agree that Katharine’s songs are flawless TECHNICALLY, but no, I do not believe that she has once connected with the meaning of any song. If my opinion makes me “soulless” then so be it; I’d rather be soulless than be duped into thinking that Katharine McPhee’s album is the height of emotive music-making.

  • P.H.

    100% agree with you! I love your review, what you said is the truth.. Katharine has an amazing voice and with this album, she will be BIG, no doubt on that.

  • Don Carpenter

    With Katharine McPhee we are seeing a huge talent behind a shy shy exterior. Even with her moderate accommodation with bright lights she comes off as a shy girl trying hard to find a comfortable place. When she does, watch out! This young woman is a musical monster. A key to her metamorphosis will be when she drops the 41 year old beau/crutch. BTW: Your review was one of the few I’ve read that actually relates to the music and the vocalist without any spin. I’m impressed.

  • idolfan

    #6—–you’re going to have to define exactly what you mean by “connecting with the meaning of any song”, because it’s obvious you don’t have the vaguest idea what you’re talking about. Do you want her to laugh hysterically when she sings a happy song and go into a crying jag when she sings a sad song? OBVIOUSLY she connects with the songs. If she didn’t she wouldn’t have much of a fan base, would she? She not only connects with the songs as well as anyone out there, but she apparently connects with the listeners as well.Over 116,000 bought her album the first week alone. She sits at #2 on the Billboard album charts. She couldn’t do that if she didn’t “connect”. You don’t think she connects because you don’t like HER, which has absolutely nothing to do with anything she’s singing. That’s just another “cut-and-paste” comment the reviewer was referring to. Thanks for proving his point.

    But, I’m glad you got a good laugh. I aim to please. Did I succeed?

  • Chris Evans

    Time and time again I’ve seen people resort to the “connect” comment anytime they can’t find anything else to critique.

  • TheBrowser

    Indeed, how one hears music is personal, but…

    She definitely “connects” to me.

  • Kat

    Aww, it’s so nice to hear compliments like “you don’t know what you’re talking about!” No wonder civility is dead.

    Here’s what I mean when I say “connecting.” I mean giving your all to a song. I mean understanding it deep in your soul, taking the lyrics and relating them to yourself, using subtlety and nuance in your voice to convey your passion, your heartbreak, or whatever emotion the song calls for.

    I watched the entire season of American Idol, and for 99% of Katharine’s performances, she sang her songs with a plasted-on smile, and seemed more concerned with making love to the camera than understanding the lyrics of her songs. Now I know you’ll say “oh, you’re just repeating what someone else said.” Well, guess what? Someone said it first and I happen to agree! Does that mean I’m not allowed to hold the same opinion!

    You may disagree. If a performance by Katharine McPhee moved you to tears, or if you belive that the lyrics to “Over It” are, like, totally about this guy in your school who promised to take you to the dance and then took that other girl instead, well, I can’t take that away from you, and more power to you. But from my standpoint, I think there’s a difference between turning in a technically flawless performance–which Katharine often does–and turning in a heartfelt, aching, emotional performance…which she rarely, if ever, has done.

    Comments like “you have no musical ear” and “obviously you don’t know what you’re talking about” belie the fact that it’s hard for you to take anyone throwing stones at your pretty princess. Well, I don’t like her singing all that much. I don’t hate it, and I don’t hate the album; the album’s not terrible, although I wouldn’t listen to it again any time soon.

    So, we can agree to disagree, or you can call me more stupid names. Your call.

  • somepeopleareweird

    Wow! there are a lot of people out there very concerned about Katharine’s career. So much so that even though they don’t care for her music(during idol and now)that they find the need to find random internet blogs and spend hours posting negative responses on the album. Tell me something, if you hated her on Idol, why did bother to listen to her album? Were you hoping to suddenly become a fan? How did you come upon this board? Find a hobby or something, there has to be something better to do with your time than trashing some 22 year old girl’s album (over and over and over). Is this slighly more appealing than the torturing animals you typically do in your spare time?

  • Kat

    No, killing puppies is actually more fun then this.

    I don’t normally care about a musician’s personality. If I like their music, I could care less what the person does in their spare time. That’s why I listened to Katharine’s album. And nope, didn’t like it very much.

    It’s absolutely hilarious to me that some of her fans can’t take a little heat without hurling insults at someone who doesn’t like the girl. “No life,” “don’t know what they’re talking about…” let me give you a tip. An insult generally has to have a kernel of truth for it to really sting. Nice try, though. I’ve never heard the torturing animals one before, so I’ll give you points for creativity, at least.

  • Kat2

    Relax. I didn’t realize you were going to get so bent out of shape about it. Maybe someone did get a little under your skin. You must realize you are still young and blissfully INexperienced in life. Perhaps with time you will learn to take constructive critism for your opinions. Unfortunately while your critisms are technically right on the money, they lack the proper amount of writers’ emotion to convey any sense of purpose. I need to FEEL why you dislike Katharine if I’m going to believe she sucks. A well written technical piece just isn’t quite enough. So this serves to belie the fact that your assumptions about that other thing making the first thing false are incorrect. When you get a lttle bit older, all of this will make perfect sense.

  • Kat

    Kat2: I must give you props for giving me a good, hearty laugh tonight. That was actually very clever and very amusing. :-)

  • DianaLesky

    It’s amazing how people would so violently retaliate against someone who doesnt share their opinions. Wow. The simple truth is that you cannot please everybody. KM could turn up to be 100 years old and probably still wont be experienced and bringing out any emotions, as far as some people think.
    Anyway, I’ll just say it’s an OK pop album. Some songs are blah, though I must say I like “Better Off Alone”, “Neglected” and “Everywhere I Go”.

  • JacquesV

    Her album is really bad.

  • Phephe Tr

    Where are the negative comments on Amazon?

    Where are the negative comments on Amazon?

    Where are the negative comments on Amazon?

    Where are the negative comments on Amazon?