Review Summary: Emotive music signifying nothing.
When I first heard that Ingrid Michaelson was to team up with producer David Kahne for her fourth studio album, I could barely contain my excitement. The prospect of the talented songstress working alongside one of the chief engineers behind Imogen Heap’s early career success was quite delectable, and the subsequent release of ‘Ghost’ as a single only served to whet my growing appetite. Its rich, textured sound was everything I hoped for from Kahne, while Michaelson sounded as wistful and on-key as ever. Once the abstract, Picasso-reminiscent artwork was unveiled, I was convinced that this was going to be the artistic statement of Ingrid’s career. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon further readings, however, that I realized Human Again
was designed for that exact purpose. Michaelson wanted this album to prove that she isn’t a kid anymore, and described it as “stepping across a boundary.” Even as the red flags rose in my mind, I continued holding out hope that this would be “one of those albums” that redefines pop by stepping outside of its rigid and predetermined confines. Considering how few and far between those types of albums are in this genre, I should have tempered my expectations significantly more.
Even though Human Again
falls way short of its aspirations, it can’t be faulted for a lack of trying. It is evident from the get-go that the album shoots for the stars, intricately lacing itself with haunting strings, poignant orchestration, and glossy production that begs the listener to feel
with it. ‘Ghost’ is one of the few instances that it succeeds, but the rest of the album is drowned in saccharine strings and undercooked ideas. The opener, ‘Fire’, is propulsive and tone-setting, but it lacks any extra push in the form of a memorable verse or seductive hook to leave a lasting impression. In a way, that’s kind of how the entire album rolls, introducing one important sounding track after another with very little real substance to tie everything together. Other songs are just mind numbingly repetitive and offer too little progression, like ‘Ribbons’, which garners little interest outside of the fascinating excerpt, “Told me that he loved me…wrapped me up in ribbons then he went for the door” – a unique analogy for “decorating” someone with promises then breaking those vows. Human Again
has occasional lyrical gems as such, but they are largely indiscernible amidst the overall mediocrity of the music itself.
Another issue with the album is that its primary objective fails. Sure, Ingrid wanted this album to “cross boundaries” – but the only outstanding moments come when she reverts back to the very lighthearted, whimsical formula that she sought to grow out of on Human Again
. Take ‘Keep Warm’, easily the record’s best track besides ‘Ghost’, for example. Following a rather tepid string intro, the song basks in a nourishing atmosphere comprised of Michaelson’s angelic voice (seriously, this girl is uncannily good at hitting high notes) and acoustic guitars. When it comes to the lyrics, they too slip back into her glory days with endearing relationship-themed imagery such as, “Some things you just can’t plan, like your hand in mine.” It makes sense for Ingrid to want to break out of that phase and converge on newer, more mature territory – but Human Again
is simply too thin on ideas to accomplish that. ‘This Is War’ is bland and unmemorable, ‘Black and Blue’ feels like faux-funk at its worst, ‘I’m Through’ fills the obligatory role of cheese ballad, and even the highly-touted ‘Blood Brothers’ sounds a little too cyclical not to wear you down after a few listens. Ingrid’s greatest success comes when she imitates her trademark sound – the one she fostered during her Be OK
and Girls and Boys
heyday. The only problem this time is that those moments are delivered infrequently, and they exist only as a safety net in case her other experiments fail.
Those who know Ingrid Michaelson’s uplifting story (she refutes the term “rags to riches”) know how persistent she had to be in order to keep pushing towards her ultimate goal of becoming a professional musician. It takes a rather stubborn personality, and after 2009’s Everybody
failed to catch fire, that may be what this maturity binge is all about. In an attempt to finally discover a new phase in her musical growth, Ingrid tries to manufacture emotion on Human Again
…a task that is obviously dependent on the listener and not necessarily tied to how many dramatic strings and synths are utilized. The artificial sense that permeates as a result of the album’s forced nature may be its largest detractor, and it is one damning flaw whose shadow Human Again
can’t seem to escape.