Wednesday, October 9, 2013

album review: 'frame by frame' by cassadee pope

Let's talk about The Voice.

Formed in the waning years of American Idol, The Voice was a desperate move by NBC to regain some market share given that several of their mainstream programs were getting crushed by Fox and CBS. They made the gamble that if they brought in several recognizable (and bankable) music stars who were desperate to regain the spotlight and had them 'overcome' the image-based discrimination of the pop scene, they'd capitalize on the degeneration of American Idol. So recruiting Christina Aguliera, who hasn't done anything worth mentioning on the charts in years, Adam Levine, who had just come out of a failed album and was hit with writer's block, Cee-Lo Green, who had just had a massive hit and was looking to coast on it as long as he could, and Blake Shelton, who hadn't had chart success in almost a decade, NBC put the show out and it was a massive hit and proved instrumental in reviving the careers of the majority of the hosts as well.

But here's the element that gets interesting; most of the 'winners' from The Voice did not really succeed in the same vein as Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood or even Adam Lambert or Phillip Phillips. The albums were delayed, the hits didn't really materialize, and the show didn't turn into the massive chart-defining money spinner that American Idol had been. In short, it's hard for me to look at this show and any of the winning contestants as just props to reinvigorate the careers of established artists. That's not denigrating any of their talent, but it's worth noting that Zac Brown might have actually been wrong when he slammed Blake Shelton and how his influence had led to success for his chosen stars - because it hasn't.

But perhaps this is going to change now with the arrival of Miss Cassadee Pope, the winner from the third season of The Voice (under Shelton's tutelage) and who has just released her new pop-country album Frame By Frame. Now to be completely honest, I never watched The Voice, half because I didn't care and half because, well, I don't have cable. So with that in mind, I took a look at Cassadee Pope's major label debut - did she rise above her reality show roots like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood ahead of her?

No. No, she did not. In fact, Cassadee Pope's debut album is exactly what I was expecting - and dreading - from her debut: inoffensive, generally bland material that had so little character and personality that I honestly wondered how on earth I was going to be able to talk about it. It's not special, it certainly isn't very interesting, and it's a big warning sign coming from The Voice that the new talent they're promoting probably won't have any staying power. Is it bad? Eh, not particularly, but I'm hard-pressed to find a lot of good to say about this album. 

Okay, let's start with the instrumentation and production, which is definitively pop country in every way, bearing all of the strengths and way too many of the weaknesses of that format. So we get inorganic drum machines that clash terribly against the guitars and fiddles, heavy electric guitars that overwhelm the mix and often our lead singer, and production that is completely shallow and devoid of any real depth and texture. What's worse here is that none of these elements mashed together even manage to offend me - no, it's really just altogether bland and completely unmemorable, lacking striking hooks or much about the instrumentation that stands out at all. And like with every attempt to return to more 'traditional' country instrumentation, it sounds so awkward with the production that every element feels glaringly out of place.

So what about the vocals? Well, arguably they would be the best part of this album - Cassadee Pope won The Voice based off of her vocal performance - but man, I was not moved by her work here. At best, it sounds like she's going towards a Taylor Swift affectation (an opinion only enhanced by everything else in her material), but there's a distinctive lack of charisma and real emotion on her tracks - everything is very polished and very clean, and while that can work in the right setting, it just serves to strip Cassadee Pope of any nascent personality she might have (and the guitars overwhelming her voice multiple times in the mix did not help matters - her voice is just too thin to carry over them).

Maybe things would be better if the lyrics and subject matter were stronger - because, for the most part, they aren't. The two songs that I can say I liked were '11' (a slightly juvenile take on the aftermath of parental divorce) and 'Proven You Wrong' (a pretty solid song about breaking out of an abusive relationship that Brad Paisley did with way more flair this year in 'Karate'), but those are weighed down by 'Easier To Lie', an absolutely wretched song that tries to get us to feel sympathetic for Cassadee Pope's cheating and then lying about it to her boyfriend - uh, no, that's not going to happen. I'm not going to excuse this sort of horse manure the same way I held Rihanna to task for 'Unfaithful' - sure, it might be relatable, but I refuse to pander to the weak excuses Cassadee Pope puts up in these songs, none of which were anywhere close to good!

And as for the rest of the album, it's pretty much forgettable - although I will point out the irony of 'Good Times', a song about not singing heartbreak songs, followed by a series of break-up heartbreak songs like 'Wasting All These Tears', 'I Wish I Could Break Your Heart', and 'One Song Away'. She has her good-time party song with 'Everybody Sings' that contains a breakdown reminiscent of 'Hollaback Girl' (and just about as irritating), but outside of that, there's nothing here that gives Cassadee Pope any sort of vocal, lyrical, or instrumental personality. The album sounds aggressively bland and producer-created, and the few points where there is a bit of lyrical personality ultimately adds up to pretty much nothing consequential.

So do I recommend this album? Uh, no, definitely not. I'm not going to say it's aggressively bad or offensive, but it's bland, unimpressive, and probably an album that will have left absolutely zero impact on me if I think about it in a day or two. It's a 5/10, because I won't say it's worth hating, but even if you're a fan of Cassadee Pope, I don't think this album will impress you all that much. If you're not a fan, Frame By Frame will do nothing for you. Skip it.

No comments:

Post a Comment