No Fairy Tale
Lisa Loeb will forever be defined as an artist of a bygone decade. (Boy, reality does bite.) But it’s not like she doesn’t already know this; “The ’90s” is a hand-clappy/ooh-ooh pop song off her seventh studio album that fondly reminisces on her career-high – when the ubiquitous “Stay (I Missed You)” became an MTV mainstay – and also asserts that she’s ready to move on from those glory days. “Sure, I liked it then, but I don’t want to go back,” she sings, suggesting that popularity is overrated and that this project is a new start for the singer-songwriter. Because it’s her first album of non-children’s music since 2004’s The Way It Really Is, it is. Otherwise, this is the same geeky girl singing the same girly song. Produced by Loeb and New Found Glory’s Chad Gilbert, No Fairy Tale revels in pure ’90s nostalgia (so much for leaving that decade behind). It’s also a sad reminder as to why “Stay” was Loeb’s only major hit. The songs are stuck in retro mode, sounding like half-baked demos with elementary arrangements and just a few grabby hooks; not to mention, her writing – seemingly culled from somewhat cleaned-up diary entries – is void of any soul and spirit. Some of it is truly dreadful (“It’s OK to show them that you’re well ... if they can’t take it, they can go to hell”). “A Hot Moment,” one of two songs written by Tegan and Sara, isn’t bad, but you can’t help imagining what the twins could’ve done with this on their own. The title track almost has enough edge to sound like a good Green Day song, and the heartfelt apology “Ami, I’m Sorry” is a throwback to her girl-with-guitar days. Those days when her life was a fairy tale. And it was, but even princesses can’t be pretty forever.
Justin Bieber’s not just stripping down to his boxer briefs like he recently did in Miami. The 18-year-old’s getting sonically naked on this set of acoustic tracks from Believe, his grown-up third studio album released last year. This lo-fi vibe might show off his passionately maturing voice, but, without a surging dance beat to distract you, it also spotlights the silliness of his still-boy lyrics. I mean, did we really need an acoustic guitar version of “Beauty and a Beat,” sans Nicki Minaj? Hasn’t the world suffered enough? “As Long As You Love Me” would seem just as ridiculous – seriously, some of those come-ons are straight-up cheese – if it weren’t for his nimble flow when he takes on the Big Sean part. “Boyfriend,” paired with just some gentle strumming, is pretty damn sexy as it slinks about into an almost hypnotic state. It actually almost works better than the original, and not just because it sounds like Bieber is right there, singing to you. Two of the three new “acoustic” songs aren’t bad (“I Would,” a pick-me-up, doesn’t follow the acoustic theme), but “Nothing Like Us” is a clear standout – one of his most tender confessionals and a song that could really only be about one person: Selena Gomez. He wrote it, and it’s just piano and his sad, sad voice. If Biebs hadn’t already proved that he’s growing up with the original Believe release, he does so here, in just a few minutes of ripened woe. Which answers a very important question: He must be getting hair down there.
With the release of her 2007 debut, singer-actress Emmy Rossum seemed ready to turn pop music on its head. Her old soul, though, had different plans. Six years later and the Shameless actress is slipping back to the mid-1900s, capturing the vintage sounds of cabaret, ragtime and Broadway for this DIY classic-covers concept album. It’s a direction that fits Rossum’s refined opera-trained voice; “I’ll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time” is an understated beauty, and her exquisite “Autumn Leaves” could fool people into thinking it’s the ’50s all over again.
Swing Out Sister
Andy Connell and Corinne Drewery know how to go all out for an anniversary. They mark 25 years in music – their debut, It’s Better to Travel, dropped in 1987 – with a true must-have for fans of the chill-pop duo: a package that includes a CD of reimagined classics and rare gems, an all-access live-concert DVD and a glossy photo book. The “Fabulous Party Mix” handle on one of their biggest hits, “Breakout,” is a sly bit of sarcasm: In its reincarnation, the song is a jazzy living-room version of the celebratory original. Cheers to that – and to another 25 years.
Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com.