Album Review: Louder [3/5 stars]

By Abrahim Harb

In 2009, thanks to Glee, Lea Michele (playing the belting Broadway bound diva, Rachel Berry) burst onto the screen with a bigger than life style that would become her signature style. After the fading spotlight, Michele released her first solo album, "Louder" under Columbia Records. According to Billboard, it sold 60,000 units in the first week and debuted at number 4 on the Billboard 200. Without a doubt, her legion of Gleeks are to thank for that. After several of her fellows Glee cast mates released albums under the radar, it was time before she would transition to a recording artist. Except for a handful of tracks, it disastrously backfired in her face. Michele is deeply talented, with a emotive voice that is flawless—but outside of the world of Glee, her perfection is less than spectacular as she produces song after song that are vocally identical, until the last track.

The first track and the debut single "Cannonball" is an anthem written by Sia is the perfect kick start to her debut. This track helped Michele get through a dark period in her life, after the death of her boyfriend and Glee co-start, Cory Monteith. With superb pronunciation, she spouts out phrases like, "I'll fly like a cannonball", "I will start living today" or "I got this new beginning". One issue: why would you want to fly like a cannonball? Listeners can appreciate the need for a new, less cliché metaphor. I revert that question back to Sia.

"On My Way," is a good club banger that any singer could deliver. It is lackluster and lands the songwriters and Michele in the boring-almost cliché box along with a plethora of other songs music listeners want to forget. The next song, "Burn With You" will catch the ear (and minds) of listeners who follow Lea's career. It is my personal opinion that this song was written as a way for Michele to publicly address the passing of Monteith. It is not a secret that he lost his battle, after struggling with an addiction to pills and you can feel the pain Lea felt while dealing with his passing as she proclaims, "It's not perfect here between us/ even angels have their demons". It is her political way of saying, "Yes, I knew he wasn't perfect. We all have our flaws. His was sprawled for the world to see. Do you think I was oblivious to this? And if that condemns him to death, I'll be there with him". It is packed with imagery, listeners can practically write a treatment for the music video. For that reason, this song is a stand out: perfect vocal restraint, mesmerizing melody and vulnerability that is clearly not the typical overacting she is known for.

"Battlefield" (the second Sia co-written song) is piano ballad, with superb backup vocals (hopefully featuring Sia) and continues this war/love theme. Yeah, I just said that. It is a song that can easily translate into a Rachel Berry ballad—maybe it was a reject original for Glee. A minute and 35 seconds into the song there is a slight rasp that gives her voice this goosebump-inducing tinge. If you don't feel anything after listening to this song, you're heartless. "You're Mine" is catchy and mixes Broadway drama and electronic music, but never really goes anywhere else other than nearly missing the cliché box. Her voice is layered and mixed with care, and it draws the listener into the track. Thousand Needless is another great production and sonically orchestrated to perfection. It feels like an act, like a recording for a show stopping Glee song.

"Cue The Rain" is a song that anyone can find meaning in. I have said it 9 times, why not one more time — those vocals are always so solid. This is a perfect song to jam out to after ending a bad relationship. The optimism in this song is golden and the melancholy sonic build up helps the moment sink in and grasp at your heartstrings. The album closer is a song that is raw in its vocal and special in its creation. "If You Say So," is based on Monteith's last conversation with Michele. Frankly, this piano ballad is chilling and real. I can't wait to hear this live, if she ever does. Imagine reliving the last conversation you've had with a loved one in the form of a song. If she dug this deep for each song, I can only imagine how the album would have been. She undoubtedly has all this build up anger towards Monteith for leaving earth so abruptly. If you are ever in a slump and thinking about someone you lost, give this song a listen. The way her vulnerability and sadness is displayed in this ballad she co-wrote with Sia is a perfect curtain call.

With all, the album lacks something. I don't always believe that she wrote the words she is singing. I know she is not a songwriter but works with them in the studio - but a good artist makes us believe the lyrics were written by them. For an album written after life changing events, it lacks the emotional pull from the start to the end - some of the tracks are rife with platitudes. 

From the softness in her voice to the delicate way she pronounces words, Lea is a Broadway baby. Let's give in, her voice is crafted and she has preserved it for a certain arena. The juxtaposition of her Broadway habits doesn't really mesh perfectly in the pop genre. But pop can be defined in so many ways, we have a spot for Lea. Although this album is titled Louder, she doesn't really say much other than proving that she can produce radio ready track after track. After listening to this album, I've come to learn one thing: each of these songs could be a song used at the pinnacle of a Broadway show.

Check out all things Lea Michele at www.leamichelemusic.com.