Saturday, December 10, 2011

Everybody Is Fun And Emotionally Wrenching Ingrid Michaelson!

The Good: Voice, Lyrics, Some of the theme
The Bad: Short, Musically limited, Uneven themes.
The Basics: Everybody gives the listener emotional whiplash, but is pretty worthwhile Ingrid Michaelson.

A few days ago, my wife noticed a package came for her and she quickly guessed its contents. I had gotten her a little computer tablet that would allow her to draw on her computer easier. She figured it out pretty quickly and goaded me into giving her big holiday gift early. Bummer. So, to make things even for our anniversary - which is what the gift suddenly ended up being for - my wife gave me a gift she had been holding for me; Ingrid Michaelson's album Everybody. So, as today is our anniversary and I have been listening to the album most of the week, it seemed a fitting time to review it.

I have enjoyed Ingrid Michaelson's albums for the most part, as my review of Be Ok (reviewed here!) illustrates. Since reviewing Michaelson's earliest albums, I have discovered a multitude of YouTube videos of Michaelson's concerts and discovered she puts on a very entertaining show. So, I suspect that my wife knows that I'd like to see Michaelson live now and that is why she thought I might like Everybody. And I did like Everybody, but objectively, it is a closer-to-average album than I would have hoped.

Everybody is a distinctly Ingrid Michaelson album. Michaelson wrote all of the songs and music and co-produced the album. Michaelson sings all of the primary vocals and plays a number of instruments on it as well. Michaelson plays the piano, ukulele, acoustic guitar, Rhodes and organ, so she was integral in every level of this album.

And outside being short and emotionally manipulative, Everybody is a wonderful contemporary pop album that puts the likes of Katy Perry to shame. The primary issue with Everybody is that song to song the album holds up poorly. Each song is good to great (LOVE "The Chain!"), but the album holds together poorly as a listening experience. One song will be angsty and depressing, the next will be peppy and enthusiastic. The album does not take the listener on an emotional journey from one emotion to another, but rather with an erratic sense, jerking the listener from joy to pain to danceably enthusiastic.

Ingrid Michaelson has decent range on Everybody, but what is most impressive about her vocals is how articulate she can be at speed. When she sings fast on "Everybody" (the single), she manages to be perfectly articulate. Michaelson sings lower on "The Chain" and higher on "Mountain And The Sea." Songs like "Everybody" are presented high and perky, so there is decent vocal and emotional range on Everybody.

What Everybody is less impressive with is the instrumental accompaniment. Ingrid Michaelson plays many different musical instruments and the album has more musical diversity than most pop albums, at least in terms of the types of instruments being played. But Everybody has essentially two sounds, bouncy perky and slow and sad. The pianowork is not particularly imaginative and the guitarwork is pretty limited as well. This is not to say that the album is unpleasant to listen to, but by the fifth song, one has pretty much heard all that the album musically has to offer. In fact, the final four songs on the album do not stand out at all instrumentally, so when I am not listening to the album (as I am not right now), I could not even recall their sound. Given that I have listened to this album twelve times over the last three days, that is not a good sign.

What Everybody does have going for it that shoots it to the upper ranges of what I might consider an "average" album are quality lyrics. For sure, Ingrid Michaelson does not nail every line, but she has a way of making even some of the clunky lines work. In the hands of a lesser artist, rhyming "glove" and "love" would be universally disastrous (as Ingrid Michaelson does on the song "Everybody"). Somehow, Michaelson sells the rhyme with her perky presentation and the enthusiastic repetition of the title word.

Michaelson has a folk music feel on "Men Of Snow," when she sings a musical storysong. The theme of loneliness pervades the song well as she sings about making and befriending a snowman. When she sings "But when I came around the next day / My friend had gone and melted all away / I saw his eyes lying on the ground / And I made a sound that was something like crying" ("Men Of Snow"), it is heartwrenching. The sense of progression in the musical story makes the listener actually miss the character! There is a sense of loss that she characterizes well both through the lyrics and the presentation of the lines.

While I love "The Chain," because that song appears on a prior album of Ingrid Michaelson's, I tend to discount its lyrical contribution to Everybody. What impressed me was how Michaelson made a song with a similar emotional resonance with "Are We There Yet?" On that song, Michaelson attacks many popular cliches about relationships and pairs them with the musical protagonist's sense of loneliness. When she opens with "They say that home is where the heart is / I guess I haven't found my home / And we keep driving round in circles / Afraid to call this place our own" ("Are We There Yet?"), she establishes a profound sense of angst that is uncommon in today's pop music. Ingrid Michaelson is a vastly more articulate artist than most singers on the radio today.

Because she is so articulate and performs so well, Everybody is well worth the buy.
Despite the album being so short, anyone who likes pop music will find something to like on this album. The best track is "The Chain" or "Are We There Yet" (for an original track), the low point might well be the utterly unmemorable "Maybe."

For other works by worthwhile female artists, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
South - Heather Nova
One Cell In The Sea - A Fine Frenzy
Tidal - Fiona Apple


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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