New album falls short of Michaelson’s talent

Robert Starr

With a watercolor painted album cover by Joe Sorren evoking early Joni Mitchell, one could be forgiven for thinking that Ingrid Michaelson’s latest album, Human Again, might be an artistic foray into experimentalism. While that might have been interesting, it’s not what the disc provides. Michaelson has crafted an album of unapologetic pop, with polished production by David Kahne that provides full instrumental support to her soft voice and catchy choruses. It’s good stuff — very good, in fact — but it suggests an artist who’s capable of more: skating by with an easy A while the rest of the class struggles to keep up.

There are plenty of highlights here. No doubt, the best track on the album is “Ghost,” a breakup song that’s heartbreaking without being too slow and builds to an impressive chorus. “How We Love” is soft and bittersweet, exploring similar themes of heartbreak from a third person point of view, with Michaelson’s voice feeling particularly delicate, almost like a child’s. “Black and Blue,” one of the more upbeat tracks, doesn’t let the positive feel get in the way of the not-quite-so-optimistic lyrics. However, there isn’t a dull track on the disc, even if some stand out more than others.

This is as solid an album as one can make in the indie female singer-songwriter genre. However, it almost feels a bit too safe, as if Michaelson knows her strengths and weaknesses and is trying to exploit the former rather than challenge herself to tackle to latter. She knows how to construct a song and to choose where to place the slower ones alongside more upbeat ones on the album, but they all fit comfortably in a narrow range of been-there-before.

The next logical step for Michaelson is for her to tread into the deep end of the pool, where there’s some danger of failure. She uses quite a bit of repetition on this album and it’s effective — it helps make the songs catchier and more memorable — but even though she uses it well, it’s a cheap device. Of course you’re going to remember the title of the song if it’s repeated two dozen times before the track fades out. She’s mastered that trick, and now it’s time to learn a new one.

“Human Again” is a superb collection of songs about heartbreak with catchy courses and introspective lyrics, and it’s well worth checking out for fans of the genre. However, one senses that Michaelson can deliver even more than what she’s provided with her latest release. This, along with her other work, proves she’s a talent to be reckoned with, but the experimentalism suggested by the cover of the album is something she could explore next time around.