Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ingrid Michaelson Shows Real Creative Growth On Human Again!

The Good: Wonderful lyrics, Great voice, Richer musical sound
The Bad: Much of the music sounds like itself, SHORT!
The Basics: The deluxe edition of Human Again illustrates more musical growth from Ingrid Michaelson and makes the listener wish there was more!

Somewhere along the way, it appears that I became an Ingrid Michaelson fan. Having reviewed Be Ok (here!) and Everybody (here!), it was no surprise to me that when her new album Human Again dropped, the only version of it that I wanted was the deluxe edition. And with Human Again, Ingrid Michaelson once again illustrates that she is dominating the quirky, emotive, one woman pop music niche that seems pretty much dead outside her work these days.

For those unfamiliar with the works of Ingrid Michaelson, Michaelson hit it big back in the late 2000s when one of her songs was featured on sweater advertisements for The Gap. While she has seldom charted her singles, her followers – which I apparently have become as I have four out of her five studio albums! – enjoy her quirky live performances and forthright lyrics. Often, Ingrid Michaelson couches the most emotionally strained lyrics in deceptively upbeat pop music tunes. On Human Again, she tends to go for the more direct. The sad songs sound sad, the happy songs sound appropriately upbeat.

Rather refreshing for those who are used to fairly banal pop music, Human Again continues Ingrid Michaelson’s artistic tradition. As such, she wrote and composed all of the tracks. With seventeen tracks (three are demo are live versions of songs that appear only on the standard album), the deluxe version of Human Again is passionate, energetic and sometimes truly sad. The extended album features Michaelson on the piano on almost all of the songs. She provides all of the lead vocals. In fact, the only part of Human Again that is not distinctly from Michaelson is the album’s production. David Kahne produced the album, but considering how involved Michaelson is in every other aspect of the album, it seems unlikely that she would let any of it appear in a manner she was uncomfortable with.

Vocally, Human Again illustrates exceptional range for Ingrid Michaelson. She wails mournfully in the higher registers for “Ghost” and is light and playful, but much lower for “Ribbons.” Unlike most pop albums these days, Human Again features actual vocals from the artist, which is exceptionally cool. In fact, only on “Black And Blue” do the vocals sound produced in away that impedes hearing Michaelson’s natural voice. The rest of the album has exceptional range and a wonderful sound.

On the instrumental front, Human Again is a more robust album than some of Michaelson’s prior ones. Very far from the simple sound of one woman and a guitar or one woman and a piano, Human Again is rich in its melodies. From the somewhat manic refrains of “Palm Of Your Hand” to the aching ballad of “Ghost,” there is a consistent richness to Human Again. Nicely produced to let the vocals breathe, Human Again has excellent backing percussion and extensive strings on many of the songs that are uncommon in pop music. Michaelson makes it work and she makes it work exceptionally well here!

Lyrically, Human Again gives Michaelson a real chance to shine and express herself. With powerful analogies, she takes traditional themes of love and loss and makes them feel fresh again. When she sings “Do you remember when the walls fell / Do you remember the sound that the door made when you closed it on me / Do you know that I went down to the ground / Landed on both my broken-hearted knees / I didn’t even cry / 'Cause pieces of me had already died / I’m a ghost / Haunting these halls / Climbing up walls that I never knew were there / And I’m lost / Broken down the middle of my heart“ (“Ghost”), it is hard not to feel entirely empty and hurt.

More than any artist in recent memory, Ingrid Michaelson has the ability to use repetition and surprisingly simple rhymes to convey great themes and messages. Several of her songs are little storysongs and with lines like “Eyes on the prize and I can't capsize this time / 'Cause there's somebody else in my boat / Used to live alone in a tomb I made my own / But now I've gone and given up my coat / And it's cold outside but I'm just fine / You are mine to keep warm” (“Keep Warm”), Michaelson strings together an engaging musical yarn. In fact, long before her “live” version comes up on the deluxe edition of Human Again, it is pretty obvious that “The End Of The World” is about love during the zombie apocalypse!

What Human Again does exceptionally well, though, is present a very haunting series of songs that stick with the listener. “I’m Through” stands out as especially emotionally brutal and memorable. The poetics of “I know there'll come a time again / When everything will fit right in / And I won't have to see your face / In strangers on the street / But I would rather feel the sting / Than never to have felt a thing / I'll always know you were the one / To rip me from the ground / It's all because of you that I'm through / It's all because of you that I'm all through” (“I’m Through”) are cold and the song is enough to jostle any listener into making sure they know what they want when they end a romantic relationship!

Ultimately, Human Again, in its deluxe edition, is well-worth picking up and there is enough substance to the lyrics and sound to make virtually anyone fall in love with the wit and sophistication of Ingrid Michaelson.

The best track is “Ghost” (though “Blood Brothers” is a very close second), “Do It Now” is too poppy for my tastes.

For other works by ambitious female artist, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Night Of Hunters - Tori Amos
21 - Adele
300 Days At Sea - Heather Nova


For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the albums and singles I have reviewed!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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