Lea Michele has had a rough year: The talented Broadway star and lead character of the hit TV show Glee suffered the loss of her onscreen and offscreen boyfriend, Cory Monteith. Instead of allowing this to keep her down, however, Michele found peace in her art, returning to Glee and attempting to branch out into a new market. Though Michele has conquered the theater and television markets with much success, her new endeavor is the pop music industry. Her first solo album, Louder, was released yesterday by Columbia Records.
The album’s opening track, “Cannonball,” a mid-tempo power ballad about new beginnings reminiscent of Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball,” is a clear standout on the album. Michele has said she felt an instant emotional connection with the song, which was written by popular songwriter Sia Furler and Benny Blanco, the writers of Rihanna’s “Diamonds” and Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts,” after being presented with it due to the recent death of Monteith.
“Cannonball” has what pop music should: catchy hooks, a great beat, powerful vocals and quality lyrical content. Michele is known for her powerful pipes, a vocal style uncommon in pop music today. In “Cannonball,” she uses her strengths for the right reasons, shining brightly on the chorus while making sure not to overwhelm the song as a whole with her voice. Unfortunately, not all tracks on Louder match the standard set by the album’s opening track; in fact, most pale in comparison. Louder’s biggest downfall is the album’s title track, featuring a very musical theater sing-scream over a dull dance beat.
That is not to say the album is all downhill after the first track. “Battlefield,” another song written by Furler and Lawrence Goldings specifically for Michele. The beautiful piano-driven ballad compares a relationship gone wrong to a battlefield. Listeners will find a common theme here: Furler and Michele make a great team, and most of the album’s standout tracks are co-written by Furler.
The minimal amount of Lea Michele’s own penmanship might also be to blame for the album’s disconnect; with Michele writing on just three out of the album’s 11 songs, Louder’s tracks sound like they were picked based on what Michele’s vocals are capable of, and not necessarily her personal experiences. Rather than sticking to a small team of writers and producers, Louder is a hodgepodge of different sounds, ranging to either extreme on the quality scale.
The album had the potential to become a great cohesive group of pop music, but instead Louder feels like the soundtrack to a dramatic Broadway musical with a lead actress who won’t let anyone else share the microphone with her.
It is unlikely that Michele will release a sophomore LP after Louder’s lack of critical acclaim. This does not mean that Michele can by any means be viewed as a failure — she explored a new realm of her career outside of her comfort zone, expressed her emotions after a traumatizing time in her life and created a few great songs in the process. Michele has a hit television show to return to, a setting in which she flourishes, and her first lead role to take on in the upcoming major film Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, set to be released this May. Though Louder is bound to be passed by without much attention, ignore the filler and check out the gems on the album: “Cannonball,” “Battlefield,” “Thousand Needles” and “If You Say So.” Unfortunately, there is a large portion of fat that was never cut off of the album before its release, hiding some of the highest quality meat that 2014’s pop music industry has offered us so far.