Friday, August 07, 2009

Ashley Still Wants To Be A Guilty Pleasure...Kind Of

Oh, Ashley.

From the first time I stumbled upon the "hot mess" that was 'High School Musical', complete with catchy saccharine melodies and cheesy acting, I was hooked in bad, bad way. And while the majority of the world focused on Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, I found myself drawn to Ashley Tisdale.

She gives off a vibe that is interesting to me. She doesn't try to be anything she isn't, she isn't fake or manufactured (or at least...wasn't). She seemed like a real girl with a not-so-normal day-to-day life, and I liked that about her. Hence the fact that when her debut album Headstrong was released in 2007, I snapped it up first day unabashedly, despite the confused and disapproving looks of my friends. And that album was awesome. From beginning to end awesome -- that is if you love cheesy, unabashed pop.

When it was announced the name of her sophomore album would be "Guilty Pleasure", I was so tickled pink, I cannot even begin to tell you, because girlfriend got that is exactly what she is. And that is hardly such a bad thing to be. Then the images started coming in. Her look is sexier to be sure, but people tend to forget that she is in fact now 24 years old. Of course she wants to distance herself from 'High School Musical.' That's not biting the hand that feeds you, it's called growing up and moving on. She never once dissed the franchise, she is simply continuing her growth process.

Unfortunately, if Guilty Pleasure the album equals her growth, than I may have to distance myself from her, because I'm not so sure I dig this whole rocked up Ashley. I will always like Ashley as a person, and as a role model. She seems like a cool chick, and if ever the day comes that we meet on the street and she says, "Hey Mel, let's go shopping and talk about cute boys," I'd always be down. But I'm not feeling this set as much as I was with Headstrong. Maybe because this had so much poppy potential, but it got too caught up in being in with the trends and fitting in, and less about standing out on your own two feet, a mantra that Ashley always seemed to stand for.

Ashley always struck me as such a bubbly girl, a stereotypical pop darling, that this whole rock thing makes me kind of suspicious and cynical, to the point that I feel like it might be her label attempting to cash in on what's hot. However, Ashley did four of the fourteen, take that for what it's worth. I don't know her personally, so who am I to say what her true personality is? Much of the album is probably amazing for the tweenage emo set who dig the big Paramore singles and whatnot (not like I don't, I'm just saying). Maybe that is the real Ashley, and that's cool for them. I, for one, miss her popalicious side, and find it kind of sad when people who do the pop thing so well insist on changing their image as the years go on, insisting they've "grown up", like that equals no more pop.

She tricked me into thinking Guilty Pleasure would be an evolution of her old sound but what I got, for the most part, was a transition into a brand new package. The first song that leaked from the package was the JR Rotem produced "I'm Back" several months ago, and it sounded like it belonged on Headstrong, but boasted more adult lyrics. I dug it. Then came "Guilty Pleasure", which, despite it having the same name as the album, was de-moted to bonus cut status for the record. The song was so electro and 80's, it was effing amazing. Then the record came, and for the most part, I was left confused.

It's not that this album is bad. It's not. It's just confused, straddling this line between commercialized rock-pop and 80's-electro-pop, and not something I was expecting from her. The latter inspired tracks are much better than the former, and yet the former gets hyped most. I fear she is suffering from the same thing Vanessa Hudgens is suffering from -- she doesn't have a musical identity yet. Therefore, this new "rock" image is being projected, even though this is hardly a rock record, but a pop record set to electric guitar.

My excitement initially started to wane on this project upon hearing the first single, "It's Alright, It's OK". As I stated before, despite the fact that this track was produced by the geniuses of TWIN that brought us V Factory's "Love Struck", it was far too Kelly Clarkson/P!NK wannabe, and left me wanting so much more. It's catchy, sure, but it's not something I was interested in putting on repeat.

Possible followup single, "Masquerade", for whatever reason, reminds me sonically of a rocked-up version of Kristinia DeBarge's "Goodbye". Suffice to say, I prefer Candy Coated Chaos's "Masquerade" to this one. "Erase & Rewind" desperately wants to be "Since U Been Gone" on every level. It gets more enjoyable the more time you spend with it, but I can't get that Kelly song out of my head when I hear it. "Hair" is probably one of the few songs that sounds like a true extension of Headstrong, but it's lyrics turn me off in such an extreme way. Meh.

However, I do appreciate some of the songs. "Hot Mess" probably won't be a single (and really, I kind of shouldn't), and when I first saw the song title, I cracked up. I was expecting something much lighter than what I got, but it's still a fun little ditty that I think just about every girl can relate to. Her vocals remind me quite a bit of the Clique Girlz "Smile"...and I say that in a good way, as that's the only Clique Girlz song I like.

"How Do You Love Someone" is positively 80's sounding and epic, and was written about a child going through her parents divorce. As someone who has gone through this in my own life, it rung quite intense for me. It comes complete with banging drums reminiscent of an army march and sweeping vocals, and was the first song on this record (that wasn't a bonus cut) that I instantly put on repeat.

"Delete You" was written by Diane Warren, but that doesn't really show in the production or the lyrics. For a woman who well known for her power ballads, I was a bit turned off by this rocked up version, but it's not too bad. I do like the backround synth and echo-iness that sounds almost Duran Duran or Flock of Seagulls. I wonder if she did that purposefully.

"What If" drops the rocker girl edge, and comes to us thanks to Kara DioGuardi in collaboration with the aforementioned TWIN. It harkens back to her older song "Suddenly" in places, and is a beautiful ballad that I can guarantee won't get the notice it deserves.

TWIN finally delivers with "Crank It Up", a fusion track of the two genres Ashley attempts to pass off as cohesive with this record. While the album on the whole feels confused, this song works, and is the only uptempo song on the set that I adore right away. It's full of cliqued lyrics that are pretty much ripped off from other pop, urban and dance songs, but I like it nontheless.

Overall, the electro-inspired half of the album varies from listenable to awesome (and I'm including the two bonus cuts, "Guilty Pleasure" and "I'm Back" into this mix -- as those two are the songs from this set that I most enjoy overall). The rest is fine if you like that kind of thing, but it's not up my alley. I only ended up adding five of the fourteen cuts (not including the two bonus songs I already had) to my iPod.

I'm hoping Ashley figures herself out (come back to the pop side, Ash -- we have cookies!). This isn't to say that an artist isn't allowed to experiment -- that usually leads to amazing results (Christina Aguilera, anyone?), but this just feels somewhat forced to me, and I'm hoping Ashley can get down to the real nitty-gritty and put herself out there as really is. When she does, I'll be supporting her, but until then, I'll just groove to the dancey songs.


J.Mensah said...

WOW! Fantastic review! You've changed my mind about "How Do You Love..." I wasn't too keen on it before.

Mel said...

J - Awesome! I think that's my favorite along with "Crank It Up" in terms of album tracks. Otherwise, I just love the bonus cuts. Haha.

Susan - Thank you! Good to have you! :)

J.Mensah said...

That's weird lol I just got the exact same comment on my blog--and there I was thinking I was special :( lol, I joke.

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