One might have predicted that Ingrid Michaelson’s new album would come out as Valentine’s Day edges closer. After all, a narrow view of Michaelson shows that she has essentially cornered the market on “how-delightfully-romantic!” songs, particularly thinking about her most successful single, “The Way I Am.”
This is not to say that there isn’t a place in the music industry for kitschiness, and to be fair, Michaelson has successfully walked the fine line between serious and sickeningly sweet for several albums now. However, “Human Again,” her fifth studio album, represents the misguided decision to tip the balance entirely towards the former. The result is unexceptional.
Michaelson misses the mark in several spots by making the same crucial mistake that so many artists these days make–forgetting what they’re good at. “The Way I Am,” for instance, shines because of its pared-down melody, memorable lyrics and passably good vocals. In “Human Again,” a few songs meet these criteria. For instance, “I’m Through” showcases the heights that Michaelson’s new style can reach, with a four-chord piano progression and heart-wrenching sincerity.
But for the most part, Michaelson’s three best qualities are markedly absent throughout “Human Again.” Most of the album is lyrically, as well as musically, repetitive–“Fire,” for example, utilizes about three notes through the whole song as well as incredibly cliché “emotional” lyrics (“I’m walking in a fire with you”). Hey Ingrid, Adele and John Mayer called–they want their romantic (and superior) fire metaphors back (see “Set Fire to Rain” and “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room”).
Similarly, “Ghost” goes the entirely expected route of “haunting,” with excessive discordant violins and a somewhat jarring chorus. Gone is the happiness of Michaelson’s former work, replaced with a sound that is probably supposed to be “darker” but comes across as somewhat miserable. Think Selena Gomez aiming for (and missing) Adele-level heights of emotional melodrama.
An artist’s evolution can often be a necessary change and the defining moment of his or her career. For hit producers, a new sound is a way to appeal to an even larger audience while still retaining the fans that lust after their original tones. Michaelson, however, is not a traditional chart-climber, and perhaps for this reason becomes the exception rather than the rule. Her new record would have benefitted most from more of her old style rather than less.
Instead, “Human Again” seems to be an attempt at pandering to a new audience combined with her genuine evolution as a more mature artist. If this is humanity encapsulated in an album, other species might just be more advanced than we are.