The Good: Moments of voice
The Bad: Terrible instrumental accompaniment/overproduced nature, Short, No incredible lyrics
The Basics: Lea Michele abandons her innate vocal quality on Louder for an album that has a generic pop-quality that makes for a disappointing solo debut album.
Fans of the television show Glee (season one reviewed here!) have been proven reliable sources of cash for Fox’s music division. Virtually every soundtrack album from Glee from its first few years became a bestseller and made scads of cash for the company. So, it seemed like a no-brainer that stars of the popular television series (which I was once a fan of) would begin releasing their own albums to promote their careers beyond the television show. The first young star to release, predictably, is Lea Michele, who plays Rachel Berry on Glee (she was beaten to the punch by Matthew Morrison, who plays the glee club’s faculty mentor).
Lea Michele’s debut album is Louder and I got in the deluxe version of the album for review. Given that the standard album has three fewer songs, it is hard to imagine that shorter is better in the case of Louder. The most direct way to attack the project of reviewing Louder is to cut to the chase: on Glee, Lea Michele plays a vocally-talented teenager/twentysomething who has dreams of Broadway and sings vocally-driven ballads. Louder clearly differentiates Michele from her character by providing auditory drivel that is overproduced pop crap reminiscent of the worst pop albums of the mid-1990s (before hip-hop/rap started to dominate the pop charts). Instead of appearing like the next generation’s Celine Dion or even Mariah Carey, Louder presents Lea Michele as the second coming of Fergie.
With fourteen tracks, clocking out at 53:11, Louder is a studio-produced and assembled work that reveals almost no talent or contribution from Lea Michele. Michele is barely a performer on her own debut album. Lea Michele is credited as a co-writer on only three songs and she plays no instruments on the album. Michele had no part in producing Louder and in the tradition of such albums, Louder is produced track by track and cobbled together in a desperate attempt to land/sell a single as opposed to creating a coherent or compelling album.
Louder is unfortunate pop drivel and I write that as one who likes music of the 1980s and 1990s, especially coming from female artists. But on Louder, Lea Michele is no more an artist than Britney Spears was on “. . . Baby One More Time” (reviewed here!). Michele on Louder is a pre-fab product branded on popular elements assembled by a recording studio that has no clear idea what the talent of the performer actually is. As a result, Louder is a mash-up of fourteen pop songs that have not a single memorable tune between them and do their best to obscure Michele’s innate vocal talents. Driven by synths, drum machines and programming, Louder is a pop-dance album that slowly crescendos into pop songs that are less danceable, but still percussion-driven in a way that covers up Lea Michele’s voice.
On Louder, Lea Michele’s vocals are presented with an effortless quality that stays in the alto/soprano range. Unlike on Glee where Michele exerts and pushes to hold notes and go higher, Louder keeps Michele singing fast, mid-range and generally does not challenge her (or the listener) in any recognizable way. There is almost none of her natural, impressive, voice on songs like “Don’t Let Go” and the insipid pop beats that accompany the words she sings do their best to muffle her unique voice. “Battlefield” is the vocal exception on Louder. There, Michele holds notes, sings clearly and her voice sounds more like a human voice than something produced by a hit-factory computer. “Empty Handed” is not terrible on the vocal front, though Michele sounds like all she is doing is mimicking Britney Spears on one of her ballads.
Lyrically, Louder is entirely uncomplicated. The songs tend to be about relationships and loss, which is somewhat predictable considering Lea Michele’s ill-fated romance with Cory Monteith. Opening with “Cannonball,” Michele seems (or rather, her studio-provided writers) to want to address her public image and relationship. There is an autobiographical flavor to the lines ”You and I / We have to let each other go / We keep holding on but we both know / What seemed like a good idea has turned into a battlefield / Peace will come when one of us puts down the gun / Be strong for both of us / No please, don't run, don't run” (“Battlefield”).
In true pop music tradition, Louder is plagued by repetition issues. Songs like “Don’t Let Go” feature a troubling number of lines repeated over and over again. When Michele sings “Baby open your eyes /And hold on tight / Just keep running and we can stay up all night / Don't let go / Don't let go / Flying high as a kite no ground below / Got me up in the sky running don't let go, don't let go“ (“Don’t Let Go”), it gets old quickly.
Unfortunately, Lea Michele seems to have very little to add to her own album. Michele contributes her sense of loss to “If You Say So,” which is a song about loss written about the death of Cory Monteith. But even that is plagued by overly-repeated lines and a troublingly predictable rhyme scheme that does not hold a candle to the poetry of the song that precedes it. Written by known hitmakers John Shanks, Christina Perri, and David Hodges, “Empty Handed” creates a more enduring and universal statement vocalized by Michele, “All I've ever known is how to hide a secret / But I'm tired of going on without believing / And love is not illusion, love illuminates the blind / If I fell into you, would it be close enough? / If I finally let you in, would you show me what love is? / If I had nothing to give” (“Empty Handed”).
Lea Michele’s debut was a sure-fire Top Ten album release, so it was going to be money in the bank for whatever record company released it. Columbia got the honor and stupidly produced and released an album that seems to show no understanding for the talent Lea Michele comes to the project with and goes instead for a generic sound that has no clear appeal . . . outside focus groups at Columbia.
The best track is “Empty Handed,” the low point is the abysmal pop of “Burn With You.”
For other recent albums, please visit my reviews of:
Prism (Deluxe Edition) – Katy Perry
High Hopes - Bruce Springsteen
Britney Jean (Deluxe Edition) – Britney Spears
For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing.
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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