Review Summary: Vanessa Carlton's third album is not only her most honest, likeable release, but also her strongest.
Despite being written and recorded by someone who essentially face planted out of the public eye and a record deal with the commercial flop that was Harmonium (which was a fairly dark album itself), Vanessa Carlton's 2007 album, Heroes & Thieves, sounds almost unnaturally uplifting. That isn't to say I'm complaining with the direction of the singer-songwriter's third record though, as no matter how excellent the confessional Harmonium was, it took more than a few listens to fully appreciate. Heroes & Thieves maintains the reflective tendencies of its predecessor, while better incorporating the catchy overtones of Vanessa's debut, Be Not Nobody. As result, Carlton has managed to craft an album that while perhaps not quite as complex as the pianist's sophomore effort, is a lot more likeable.
Opening with first single and unquestionable highlight, Nolita Fairytale, Heroes & Thieves doesn't waste any time in laying out the album's foundation. The piano orientated pop which Carlton has been playing since Be Not Nobody has never sounded so honest, nor so full. The optimistic, graceful piano melodies which make up a large majority of Heroes & Thieves (there's also some strings and synth spread throughout the forty-some minute runtime) are perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of Carlton's repertoire, as they take up a variety of forms, ranging from straightforward and upfront, as in Nolita Fairytale and Hands On Me – two songs prime for the radio, to lush and relaxing (Spring Street comes to mind), to an almost sparse, background job in the likes of Come Undone. There's even an upbeat, fast-paced instrumental bridge in the otherwise quiet and contemplative ballad Home, which brings Carlton's classical piano training to the forefront. With that in mind, the greatest characteristic of Vanessa's abilities as a pianist is the way it works together with her singing. Her vocals have improved tenfold in the five years since Be Not Nobody. And while they aren't perfect, as the somewhat strained chorus of the title track reveals, they still help enhance the personal, heartfelt sound which the Carlton stresses throughout the album.
While Vanessa Carlton's third album doesn't exactly tread new ground, Heroes & Thieves features some of the American singer-songwriter's strongest, most earnest material. Building on the artistically pleasing elements of Harmonium and the catchy, sing-along qualities of the hit, Be Not Nobody, the album flows extremely well, making for a fun and at times relaxing listen. The only thing it really lacks is a cool cover ala Paint It, Black (Be Not Nobody) or Where the Streets Have No Names (Harmonium bonus track), but you can't have everything, I guess. While it's unlikely that Heroes & Thieves will revive Carlson's career commercially, it's still a solid album, and the best of her career. Too bad nobody will notice.