Has Ingrid Michaelson grown up?
Considering that Michaelson’s old lyrics included cutesy lines such as If you are chilly / Here, take my sweater — which landed her an Old Navy commercial, by the way — the answer seems to be a resounding yes.
On her fourth studio album, Human Again, Michaelson puts her ukulele up on the shelf and takes a stab at a more mature, less pop-influenced sound. Though the album’s sound is indeed more adult, it doesn’t live up to the grim elements she claimed would characterize this album.
Despite the changeups — including the obvious lack of ukulele — Human Again doesn’t have too much of anything new to offer listeners, particularly those looking for something fresh in the singer-songwriter niche.
The album starts off with the appropriately titled “Fire,” a fairly sophisticated song with a fast enough tempo to make it lively, but not overly bubbly. It’s easily the catchiest song on the album — probably why it’s first — and it uses a pleasant medley of instruments led by piano and a delicate, urgent violin, which would have been wise to incorporate within the rest of the album.
But “Fire” is a misleading first track. It has a moody feel that is intriguing and engaging, but Michaelson does not fully explore and expand on that tone with subsequent songs.
Instead, the album largely becomes mellow, with safe songs like “Ribbons” and standard piano ballads like “I’m Through.”
“Black and Blue” and “Palm of Your Hand,” at least, stand out in comparison to most of the songs on the album. “Black and Blue” has a precise, sultry rhythm while “Palm of Your Hand” features a chilled-out, guitar-driven catchiness.
But so few tracks cannot make the entire album interesting.
What’s most frustrating about this album is that despite Michaelson apparently being sick of her cutesy image and now wanting to share her dark secrets, she offers nothing profound on Human Again, and certainly nothing dark.
The melodies are largely predictable and the songs seem simple at first-listen because of Michaelson’s bluntness and comfort with her basket of metaphors, which is intriguing at times, but not when listeners crave something a bit deeper. The lyrics are standard fare; the majority of them are simply uninspiring relationship lyrics.
For example, in “How We Love,” Michaelson croons, We hate the rain when it fills up our shoes / But how we love when it washes our car.
And in “This Is War,” the chorus consists of the generic lines, You knock me out / You knock me down / And I will find my way around / This is war.
Michaelson doesn’t take full advantage of her position as a singer-songwriter to use her own words to genuinely move listeners and make them think. Her music has enough character to pique interest, but she runs the risk of being forever mushed into the conglomerate of slightly-above-mediocre singer-songwriters unless she can craft and deliver more intricate and engaging lyrics.
What’s most interesting about this album is how Michaelson has moved on from the gentle sweetness and upbeat pep of her past albums, showing that she has had some growth musically.
The first single off the album, “Ghost,” is a good example of this. It’s a rich, pensive, slow song that builds in energy by the second chorus and retains an element of gloominess throughout its duration. Michaelson has indeed branched out musically, even if her sound is still all part of the same tree.
Human Again is nothing fantastic, but it’s a decent sampling of Michaelson’s mild experimentation with a more mature sound. For old Michaelson fans, it’s an album that should certainly grow better with more listens. For most, the only thing that will keep it from being just another generic indie singer-songwriter’s album is Michaelson’s name, which is still fairly well-known.
Unfortunately, Human Again simply doesn’t offer enough actual compelling and sophisticated human emotion to warrant special attention.