Review Summary: Caillat’s cheery, optimistic sound hides a much sadder regression.
Caillat’s brand of sprightly, inoffensive beach-pop found its niche in the music industry with 2007’s Coco
. While the album didn’t strive to deviate from the mainstream acoustic formula, it was quirky and carefree enough to make for a completely relaxing listen. The chilled-out vibe of songs like ‘Realize’ and ‘Bubbly’ launched Caillat into stardom, and it should come as no surprise that her follow-up effort Breakthrough
carefully tip-toed around the same lines. Once again, she presented us with breezy, cheerful hits that did just enough to keep us hooked while softly laying us down into a figurative cloud of pillows. To this point, everything Colbie Caillat has done has been about charming the listener with short verses, delightful choruses, and extremely basic but pleasant acoustic strumming. And who can argue with her success? She has the voice to match her ever-growing stage, and she has clearly hit her stride both as a musician and a figurehead of feel-good pop. Enter 2011, where Caillat throws caution to the wind and (gasp
) attempts to reach for a more fully realized pop style. For once, the issue is more than “can she come up with another hit single to keep the album afloat?” This time, questions arise over her ability to branch out and simultaneously adapt herself to an even brighter spotlight - and the results aren’t always as pretty as the glowing smile that Colbie flashes our direction on the cover.
Foremost, it seems pretty important to clarify that an evolution in sound for an established, well-marketed pop star is highly different than it is for most artists. Whereas some indie musicians may alter their style (or perhaps even their genre) entirely, a revelation in pop could be as simple as the introduction of autotune. Fear not, because that isn’t the case here, but the attempts at progression are just as basic. Increased levels of percussion can be found across All of You
, from the infectious pitter-pats of tambourines in ‘Brighter Than The Sun’ to the much less successfully implemented and infinitely more annoying handclaps that plague ‘I Do.’ There is also the hilariously bad collaboration with rapper/hip-hop artist Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., more regularly known by his stage name Common. On what is ironically titled ‘Favorite Song’, Caillat concocts what is quite possibly her cheesiest chorus yet, and it probably goes without saying that Common sounds sorely out of place. It is actually kind of reminiscent of those old-school Radio Disney songs that would mimic the melody of some major hit, make it a thousand times cheesier, and then have a rapper enter midway through to appeal to the “new, hip generation.” Needless to say, Colbie’s hip-hop experiment ends in futility. Other than the obvious intrusions she inflicts upon our poor ears, Caillat tends to play her evolution on the safe side. Quicker strumming, alongside the aforementioned dialing up of percussion, is combined with more streamlined production to give All of You
that sleek feel that a breakout album should
have. The problem here is that behind all the added frills, there is very little actual substance.
Her efforts aren’t entirely in vain, however, as Caillat’s newfound sense of energy does occasionally pay dividends. ‘Before I Let You Go’ is easily the album’s catchiest song, with a sweeping chorus and natural sounding transitions between the simplistic picking and the upbeat, confident strumming. ‘Brighter Than The Sun’ also warrants attention, offering up Colbie’s only real successful landing on her targeted “new” sound. The expanded presence of drums, tambourines, and handclaps all create the desired “tropical” effect that she obviously yearned to either maintain or further enliven with her newest LP. But as you might have already inferred, Caillat’s best work comes when she sticks to her bread and butter. ‘What Means The Most To Me’ is a tranquil enough ballad that seems to float on air, even if it is slightly reminiscent of Breakthrough
’s ‘I Never Told You.’ In a similar fashion, ‘Make It Rain’ ends the album with a soothing acoustic ditty that, while easily digestible and wholly pleasant, borrows a verse that is eerily similar to that of her previous hit ‘Fallin’ For You.’ Still, that shouldn’t take enough away from these songs to prevent you from liking them for what they are: simple, pretty, and catchy acoustic pop tunes.
In the end, it is quite clear that All of You
is Caillat’s most inconsistent album. She deserves some credit for trying to shake up a formula that was beginning to get stale, but unfortunately, she falters more often than she succeeds. This isn’t an album absent of hits, so Colbie will undoubtedly get the airplay that she needs to sell this record; however, the songs between the hits offer very little to purchasers of All of You
. Not quite disastrous but dangerously close, this is an album that will need a very good successor before some fans will forgive.