Album: Vanessa Carlton: Harmonium
Street Date: November 9, 2004
Reviewed by: Brian
After her hit song "A Thousand Miles" exploded onto the music scene in January of 2002, the next year for Vanessa Carlton brought extended touring, promotional appearances, late night talk show performances, and even 3 Grammy nominations. All of these things were signs pointing to Vanessa Carlton becoming the next budding pop star. Unfortunately, Carlton was beaten out for all three Grammy Awards by Norah Jones, and due to poor promotion of Carlton's two other "Be not Nobody" singles (Ordinary Day, Pretty Baby), many people only remember her as "the girl who sings A Thousand Miles." After taking a year and a half to record her new album 'Harmonium', which included several release date pushbacks, and even a change of heart as to what the first single would be, Carlton is set in her attempt to reestablish her name in today's pop music scene. It should be noted that 'Harmonium' is an Enhanced CD, containing Vanessa Carlton's first DVD documentary, "Pleased To Meet You."
1. White Houses - The first single from 'Harmonium', White Houses starts off the CD in an up tempo pitch. With a catchy piano rhythm mixed with consistent drum kicks, and a unique brand of strings (including those of Lindsay Buckingham), White Houses musically gives you a feeling of wanting to dance around (which is exactly what Vanessa Carlton does in the video) and just generally be happy. The song, which was co-written with Third Eye Blind singer (and overall producer of 'Harmonium') Stephen Jenkins, is lyrically sound. Carlton's vocals also shine on this song, as you can notice that her voice has gained much more range and consistency than seen on 'Be not Nobody'. It should be noted that this song is a bit more to the bubble-gum pop side of things than most people are used to seeing from her, also.
2. Who's To Say - Another track co-written with Jenkins, the song starts with a slow-to-mid tempo which becomes upbeat in the chorus. The piano works very well with the string arrangement to make the song very appealing to the ears instrumentally. Lyrically the chorus is very catchy, and vocally Vanessa uses her voice well to reflect the emotion of the lyrics. This is another song that progresses forward from the type of music that was on 'Be not Nobody', and it shows Vanessa's growth as an artist.
3. Annie - The main thing that stands out about Annie is the piano, especially in the chorus. It is a very hard and rugged piano, but also very catchy. Vanessa uses her voice well during the chorus to keep up with the fast pace of the piece, and brings it back under control during the verses. This is one of the more addictive pieces on the CD, as the piano is uplifting, but lyrically the song is rooted and serious.
4. San Fransisco - This is another song like "White Houses" before it that will have you tapping your foot. The piano rhythm and drum kicks are fairly consistent, jazzy, and pleasing to the ear. The vocals are a bit more under control in this song than in the three previous, but that isn't to say the song is without emotion, because it has its moments. It has been said that the drum kicks at the end mirror the drum kicks of Third Eye Blind's "Jumper," and on a close listen the two are very similar.
5. Afterglow - To put this in terms of a VC fan, Afterglow is to 'Harmonium' what "Twilight" was to 'Be not Nobody'. It is kind of a buzzkill being at #5, seeing that all 4 songs before it had an upbeat tempo, but the song itself is beautiful. Between the piano and strings, the song has a very easy-going, relaxing feel. Vocally, Vanessa has about the same intensity level from "Who's To Say", and the vocals work well for this song. Lyrically the song fits the music perfectly.
6. Private Radio - Back on your feet. This song will make you want to dance, too. From the "ba da da, ba da da" open to the closing "do do do do do do do's", this song will have you tapping your foot all day long. Very catchy chorus, especially with all the "ba da da's." This was rumored to be the first single, before it was changed to "White Houses." It could make a legitimate second single. Vocally, Vanessa kicks it up a notch which makes the song have even more pop appeal.
7. Half A Week Before The Winter - A very strange song lyrically. It is catchy, but there really is not a whole lot of meaning you can pull from it. Musically it is sound, with a drum kick that kind of reminds you of a marching band or a drum that you are supposed to march to. The piano work is solid, as are the vocals.
8. C'est La Vie - This is a song that is going to divide a lot of people. You are either going to love it, or hate it. It was done mostly with drum kicks accompanied by a distorted piano riff background. For those of you who heard the song performed in concerts previous to 'Harmonium', it will almost come as a culture shock because the song sounds so pure in piano form, but is totally reborn on the CD. From where I am sitting, it was a successful experiment as the drum kicks make the song very catchy with the piano, but many purists won't like it.
9. Papa - A solid piano/vocal track. A bit short though. The vocals work well with the piano. It doesn't sound like anything was changed from the version Vanessa played in concert, either.
10. She Floats - One of the true gems on the CD. The string work combined with the piano makes this song feel so relaxing and carefree, kind of like you are truly floating. The vocals are a bit flat at first, but it seems more intentional than anything. During the long bridge in the middle there are two portions of screams during the song, at first it seems disconcerting, but it works very well with the song. As a side note, on the Enhanced portion of the CD, the DVD entitled "Pleased To Meet You," it actually shows Vanessa and Stephen working on the screams, and Stephen mixing them.
11. The Wreckage (Hidden Track) - Great piano in the song, interesting lyrics. Vocally the song is solid. Again, kind of short. It is a nice piano/vocal, though.
Overall as a CD, 'Harmonium' is very solid. A big positive of 'Harmonium' is that there are no dead spots, or songs that will almost always be skipped, and 'Harmonium' presents itself as being more upbeat than 'Be not Nobody' was. The CD also shows Vanessa's tremendous growth as a songwriter, pianist, and vocalist. While there is no one song that stands out as a surefire hit single like "A Thousand Miles" was, each song on this CD serves its purpose. If this record is any indication of what we can expect from Vanessa Carlton in the future, she may just regain her status as a budding pop star, and her career may finally blossom into what all of her supporters envisioned it would be after the worldwide success of "A Thousand Miles."
For more info, see: www.vanessacarlton.com.
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