Review Summary: A strange way to re-enter the pop world, yet also a promising one.
I’m just going to come out of the gate with this: I didn’t care for “Jar of Hearts” at all. Despite being strong on a *technical* front - solid vocals, nice piano playing, fine production work - it was buried beneath so much saccharine fluff that I always had a hard time trudging through it. Combine that with a really generic pop chord structure, and there simply isn’t much to latch onto emotionally or analytically for me. Still, based on those vocals, I was at least ready to give Christina Perri’s other material a chance. To my surprise, lovestrong
was actually a really strong set of tunes that displayed a nice fusion of pop and rock elements. Even in the softer moments, I could certainly understand the appeal she had; Perri gave off an intensely emotional and sentimental streak that could speak to a lot of people, even if it sounded a bit hamfisted and ridiculous at times. And then… she just kinda disappeared. After 2014, the buzz about her seemed to slow down to a trickle, and as of now, the world has seemed to largely forget about her (except for that big hit, of course). So when there was news of her third album coming out - even though the announcements for it dated back to 2016 - I was definitely caught off guard by her sudden return. And upon listening, it’s certainly not the only thing to be caught off guard by.
It seems Perri’s been heavily influenced by her newfound motherhood, as Songs for Carmella
is entirely based around this. The record is split up into two parts, the first being Lullabies
and the second being Sing-a-longs
. It’s worth noting that the “Sing-a-long” half is just an instrumental version of the first half, which unfortunately hinders the experience if you’re trying to listen to the album from front to back. It’s also worth noting, however, that just about every song is incredibly short, which makes for a very digestible and replayable set of tunes. But what of the songs themselves? True to the title, they’re all lullabies and soft ballads, most of which are covers of old classic tunes. I may not be a parent myself, but it’s hard not to at least appreciate the sentiment of the music here. This is easily the most passionate Perri has been on a project, and it really shows in the fact that her vocals are stronger than ever. She displays a lot more subtlety than usual, dialing back on her previous melodramatics for a more “homely” sound, if that makes sense. She’s especially impressive in the songs that combine joy and melancholy in her performances, such as the wife-husband duet “Tonight You Belong to Me” or the powerful little acoustic guitar number “Remember Me.”
The music that backs Perri is just about as stark and naked as it could possibly be, reinforcing the intimate aesthetic that’s inspired by the current events surrounding. Once in a while you’ll come across something that’s more lush and elaborately arranged, such as the opening “You Are My Sunshine” or the fun cover of “You Got a Friend in Me” from Toy Story
, but most of the songs are minimalistic piano and marimba pieces that focus more on Perri’s voice than any kind of complex or busy songwriting. But considering the subject matter, that really doesn’t surprise me in any way. It makes sense that an album that delves this deeply into such a personal topic would dedicate its energy and intent to something more sentimental and low-key. Despite this, there are definitely little nuances hidden about the tracklist. This becomes especially apparent when you take a stroll through that second half and focus on the instrumental pieces, such as the light orchestral backing that anchors the climax of “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” or the way the acoustic guitar in “Stay Awake” seamlessly blends its minor and major keys together. But don’t get me wrong; just the fact that the entire second half of the album is just an instrumental version of the first half is still a major mark against it.
Songs for Carmella
is obviously a recording that only a very
specific group of people will really vibe with because of how specific the topic is, as well as how the music itself is an extension of that topic. But I can’t help but feel that Christina Perri sounds reinvigorated and better than ever vocally on this album. The songs themselves mostly work too, although the collection does get quite repetitive despite the short runtimes of the tracks themselves. There’s some variety here, but not a ton; much like the title suggests, these are soft, slow lullabies. You shouldn’t go in expecting a pop rock record with a bunch of varying tempos, but rather something that’s more akin to the low-key pop stylings of Norah Jones. In any case, the end product is a decent, passable release. As long as Perri herself is happy and fulfilled knowing she created this loving little tribute for her child, then I guess I’m happy too.