Release Date: 04.30.02
Record label: A&M
She's Finally Somebody
by: bill aicher
With her debut single, "A Thousand Miles" Vanessa Carlton was predestined to pop stardom. The success of R&B starlet Alicia Keys was reason enough for this prediction; here we had a young, attractive (read: MTV-friendly), musician who made it big. It only makes perfect business sense to build upon this phenomenon with a white girl playing the piano (building on Keys' rebirth of piano kitsch), singing pure pop songs. Basically the idea is to take the bubblegum pop marketing approach and mix it with real instruments.
And while this may appear what the whole Vanessa Carlton "phenomenon" stemmed from; don't be fooled into thinking this is nothing more than a hugely successful marketing ploy. Be Not Nobody is, surprisingly, a fairly-strong debut.
While the generaly rarity of this style in music may lead one to believe Carlton is headed for one-hit-wonderdom, what's amazing here is the general strength throughout the album. While far from being the next Fiona Apple, or a female Billy Joel there are definitely connections to be made to an early Tori Amos - or an early Jewel (where the guitar is simply traded in for a piano).
The majority of Be Not Nobody, just as "A Thousand Miles" focuses primarily on Carlton's piano and vocals, with a healthy dose of orchestration and near over-production (a radio programmer's dream come true). Yet the strongest points on the disc come through when Carlton is left on her own with only her piano to aid her. This is most evident in "Wanted" and the album's closer, "Twilight" which slowly builds into sparse orchestration closing the disc nicely.
Her weakest points, however, are those where the orchestration gets ahead of her and she's forced to rely more heavily on her vocals - which are sadly the most grating part of the disc. With a similar singing style to Jewel, her forced syllables begin to burden the songs ultimately ending up with either a feeling of repetiveness or annoyance (dependent upon personal preference).
Still, the greatest horrors are the ballad "Pretty Baby" (a required staple in any truly balanced pop album) and the horrendous cover of The Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black." Perhaps Carlton felt obliged to prove her "rock 'n' roll" roots, but it's a move best tapped as a live show rarity - not as a song to actually listen to more than once.
"A Thousand Miles" has already proven Carlton has star power, and the rest of the album will undoubtedly follow in this vein. It's produced perfectly for fans of "skilled" pop musicians, and it's destined to be a radio treasure chest - great for the masses but not so great for the general music-enthusiast. 02-May-2002 10:30 PM