December 08, 2021

Vanessa Carlton - Harmonium (2004)

Country: U.S.A.
Genre: Pop Rock
Label Number: B0003480-02

© 2004 A&M Records
On her second album Harmonium, singer/songwriter Vanessa Carlton enlists her boyfriend, Stephan Jenkins -- best-known as the frontman of the popular post-grunge band Third Eye Blind -- as a producer and co-songwriter, and his presence doesn't so much alter Carlton's music as give it a sharper, direct focus. Carlton and Jenkins focus on the lush, dramatic teenage angst that made "A Thousand Miles" a big hit in 2002, using that song as the template for a collection of songs that are intimate on a grand scale. Carlton's songs often read like diary entries, dealing with familiar adolescent themes as love and longing, and they sound even smaller when delivered in her thin but appealing girlish voice, but they gain stature when married to their cinematic arrangements, driven by her insistent, circular piano and dressed by light layers of strings, guitars, and vocal overdubs. Where her debut, Be Not Nobody, could sound endearingly awkward, Harmonium is confident and somber, a conscious attempt to be serious and mature that nevertheless still sounds adolescent, largely due to her earnest lyrics and overly ambitious music. Carlton seems to equate seriousness with a lack of hooks, either in the music or the production, so there's nothing as immediate or memorable as "A Thousand Miles," which means there's nothing to lead a listener into the world she sketches on the album -- only those already won over by the entirety of her debut will have the patience to dig deeply into this insular album. That's not to say that this is a difficult album, or even a challenging one -- it's merely a transitional one, with some good ideas and some good songs that don't quite gel as a full record, even if Jenkins gives the album a cohesive sound. Ultimately, Carlton is so intent on being serious, so intent on crafting her songs and sound, that she winds up with an album that's admirable but for its intent, but not its achievement.

tags: vanessa carlton, harmonium, 2004, flac,


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