In a rare occurrence, I first became aware of Vanessa Carlton from her video for 'A Thousand Miles' on MTV. The song seemed to be a catchy bit of popish fluff but the video was interesting, depicting Vanessa being pulled around town on the back of a truck while playing piano. I have a bit of a "girl and her piano" fetish as of late, so the video piqued my interest.
I looked for the album from time to time but apparently only the single had been released at that point. When I did manage to locate the album, it was a mere $10. Apparently, Universal chose this album as one of their experiments to see if lower priced CDs would bring people to purchase the album rather than download it. The experiment seems to have worked, as the album broke Billboards top 5. Experiments aside, however, it deserves to be there as this is one of the best debut albums I've heard in quite some time.
More than anything else, what strikes me about this album is an underlying darkness. Not an overt, whining darkness present in so many goth/nu-metal bands these days but a darkness that comes across as inherent and real. I first noticed it in her cover of the Rolling Stones' 'Paint It Black' and in the successive track 'Wanted'. The songs 'Twilight', 'Rinse', and 'Paradise' also fit this description.
The lyrics themselves aren't particularly dark. To read some of them on their own, you'd expect them to belong to just another pop song. However, when combined with beautiful instrumentals and Vanessa's hauntingly emotional vocals, the songs become something much more than the sum of their parts. The artwork within the CD booklet helps to further this mysteriousness as well.
What also strikes me about the album is the storytelling capabilities of the lyrics. Unlike many songs which outright tell a tale, many of Carlton's songs seem to tell the aftermath of a story, leaving you to imagine the details for yourself. This is surprisingly effective in creating visuals and it would be really interesting to see the results of a contest where people were asked to write the story that ends just as the song begins.
The first two singles from the album are 'A Thousand Miles' and 'Ordinary Day', both of which are standard pop songs. This isn't a bad thing, though, as they aren't the sticky sweet sickening love songs or mindless party anthems that take up a good 75% of pop radio airtime these days. At first listen, 'A Thousand Miles' sounds like just another love song that stands out thanks to it's catchy piano riffs, but when you pay attention to the lyrics, you'll discover that it's actually about longing for lost love and it's not at all as happy as it seems. 'Ordinary Day' has a story to it as well and solid lyrics that keep it above the level of just another lame pop song. If all pop songs were like these two, 'pop song' wouldn't be an insulting label.
Since I can't find anywhere else to work it in, I'd like to give special notice to the song 'Unsung'. This is one of the best blues songs I've heard from a non-blues artist in quite some time. Vanessa's voice displays a strength in the chorus of this song that remains hidden in the more restrained vocals on the rest of the album. It's a welcome addition to an otherwise subdued set and it's nicely showcases Carlton's range.
Since Vanessa's instrument of choice is the piano, it's inevitable that she'll be compared to certain other artists. Let me go ahead and dismiss those comparisons for you. She sounds absolutely nothing like Tori Amos. Tori is one of my favourite artists but Vanessa's style, both musically and lyrically, is entirely different. The poeticism of her lyrics makes a comparison to Fiona Apple a bit more valid but still, their playing & vocal styles are completely different. As for Alicia Keys, there's no comparison there either.
All in all, "Be Not Nobody" is a solid debut album from Vanessa Carlton. It displays a nice range of ability and creativity and shows much hope for future success from the young singer/songwriter. Of the eleven songs on the album, there are only two that I tend to skip when listening and then I still play those occasionally, depending on my mood. This is tremendous since most albums I buy would be more likely to have two that I listen to while skipping the rest of the album. The lyrics are imagination provoking and the music is excellent, catchy at times and beautiful at others. This is an album I strongly recommend to any true music fan. On a scale of 1-10, I give it an 8.5.
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