Favorites: Cannonball, Burn with You, Battlefield, If You Say So
Dislikes: Don’t Let Go, Louder
Overall: A beautifully sung AND written album
Broadway baby and “Glee” star Lea Michele proves her skeptics and naysayers wrong with her studio debut, “Louder.” Most people make the ignorant, biased and unfair assumption that stage actors can’t be vocally versatile and that they’ll over-dramatize or ‘big-voice’ everything. I confess today that I was one of those people (kind of) when it came to Lea Michele. A sporadic watcher of Fox’s musical series “Glee,” I usually found their contemporary covers bland and watered-down, especially those with Michele’s lead vocals (don’t kill me, gleeks). Her tone and style seemed so mismatched on many of the songs; the most obvious to me was “Empire State of Mind” (originally recorded by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys) from season 2 (why didn’t Amber Riley have a more prominent part on that cover, again?). Then, something seemed to change for the better in season 4; either that, or my ears opened because I started watching more. Michele’s breathtakingly beautiful rendition of The Beatles’ “Yesterday” in the season 5 opener was the cherry on top. I thought “Wow, she can do pop.” “Yesterday” couldn’t have come at a better time, because soon after, “Louder” would be released and I’d be ready to give it a shot. I wasn’t dissatisfied.
“Louder” gave me a good part of what I think is missing in much of popular music these days: gorgeous vocals and lyrics. Michele shows just how much of a vocal professional she is, doing everything at the right time with incredible flexibility; Streisand and Dion are audibly palpable influences. It’s been a while since I’ve heard an artist tell most of a song’s story through singing and not letting the lyrics do all the work; Michele takes you through it, floating from feathery, quaint and almost squeaking, to robust or a raspy cry. You feel every moment, which is amplified by the likewise eloquent and evocative lines penned by Sia Furler (who wrote most of the songs I liked), Anne Preven, David Hodges and Christina Perri, among many others. Someone actually cared about writing when this album was recorded. The lone, but perhaps notable weakness of the album is that while memorable, it doesn’t have any overly infectious tracks. The songs most evidently designed to be ‘current,’ “Don’t Let Go” and the title-track, are the worst cuts, ironically. There isn’t anything here I foresee getting so many airplay spins you’ll get tired of it. However, considering how darn lovely and recalling of the now gone era of the ‘diva-ballad’ it is, I don’t really care. I adore “Louder.”