Vanessa Carlton’s new album opens promisingly. Smooth synthesizers and modern production lead her in, hinting at a potential for the catchy, simplistic singer-songwriter to become something more. Is this Carlton’s big return to the music spotlight? Has she grown as a musician after all these years to break out of the confines of the dreaded one-hit-wonder cage?
Unfortunately, it takes about a minute and a half for those far-reaching hopes to simmer down. Carlton’s new album “Liberman” relinquishes its potential through its basic four-chord song structures and unimaginative lyrics. While the actual timbre of her fifth full-length record is new and refreshing, the musical content itself is not enough to revive any real excitement for artist famous for “A Thousand Miles.”
For instance, the album’s opening song “Take It Easy” begins with vague lyrics that one would expect from a beginner songwriter that doesn’t have much to say — not from a seasoned musician who has been putting out albums for nearly 15 years: “I’m old enough to know, too young to let it go / connected to one million stars and lights.”
While it’s not essential to have intensely potent lyrics for a song to be worth listening to, it is necessary to have some redeeming quality. Even Carlton’s older songs, such as “White Houses” and “Ordinary Day,” make up for their tacky lyrics with undeniably catchy piano riffs and vocal melodies.
But that foot-tapping quality of her older music seems to be lost in “Liberman.” A dull haze glosses over the ten songs instead, and the light, bouncing piano parts that characterize much of her work just aren’t like they used to be.
“Liberman” isn’t actually bad. The album has its strengths, with the airy beauty of “House Of Seven Swords” and the folk-like appeal of “Matter Of Time” being a few noteworthy examples. “Blue Pool” and “Unlock The Lock” feature classic Carlton piano riffs whose familiarity the listener can latch on to. It just doesn’t carry enough force to be considered groundbreaking in any regard.
As harsh as it sounds, the world is not going to start paying attention to Vanessa Carlton again unless she makes something that no one else could make. And “Liberman” is not that.
The album gives off an unusual cycle of progressions to the listener. At first, it’s exciting because of how new it sounds. As song after song comes on, though, the listener notices a redundancy in tonality, and the new feeling wears off. But after listening to the album a few times, one can almost put the redundant tone behind them and appreciate the album as the soft, bubbly piece that it’s supposed to be.
In her interview with Entertainment Weekly, Carlton cites one of her grandfather’s paintings that hangs in her home as a main source of inspiration for “Liberman.” Her songs are meant to mirror the tranquil, nostalgic quality of a family member’s oil painting — not the extraordinary value of some postmodernist trendsetter, or anything of the like.
Carlton also emphasized her personal growth that influenced this album in her interview.
“I’ve finally gone through enough of a chunk of time to begin reflection,” she said, most likely referencing her recent marriage to Deer Tick frontman John McCauley and her 10-month-old child.
But if Carlton has matured, her music hasn’t — at least, not in any outstanding way. But that’s okay. “Liberman” might not be groundbreaking or trendsetting. It might be an entirely expectable continuation of the rest of her equally expectable discography. This doesn’t mean it’s not worth listening to, but it also doesn’t qualify it for any extraordinary praise.
The album goes by quickly, each song sure not to overstay it’s welcome over more than roughly two and a half minutes. By the end, Carlton has said all she wants to say. It’s not much, but it’s worth hearing.
Sadly, I think it’s true that Vanessa may not be able to grab a mass media attention anymore. But my reason is a little different from you. No matter what quality music you make, it’s useless. The media attention need a strong marketing strageties. Like put it on a lot of radio channel and repeat it for 1000 time, or put in on famous movie, or make singer acting strange or be more attention like nicki or Miley, or have unique lyric that grab a lot of attention like Taylor. Or make great or unique enough to make it viral. But for me, only music cannot make you get mass media attention
That why I have both agreement and disagreement.
I agree that she may not able to grab mass media attention. But not because her music is not strong enough, but because of her marketing is not strong enough. Luckily that this review come from low attention site too, so it’s not affect her that much anyway.
This review is all over the place. Thumbs down.
I think you’re reviewing the album based on the assumption that Vanessa was trying to make a mainstream comeback with this. Vanessa hasn’t been “successful” since 2002, I think she’s long forgotten about getting a top ten hit and making music purely for the art of it.
Actually, as someone who did not like her pop hits, this is fantastic. She totally made the switch to more of a “indie-folk” feel, which was unexpected. I think she has captured a new audience with this album.
I disagree with this review, mainly because I don’t think Liberman is supposed to be Carlton’s “big return to the music spotlight”. She’s said in a lot of reviews that the process that went into her first three albums (having to work with a label and having to compromise with producers) was a negative experience for her; this album and Rabbits on the Run aren’t being made with the intent to have another smash hit like Thousand Miles. It’s personal music that’s made for the sake of making music.
I also feel like Steve Friedman’s really only ever heard a Thousand Miles, and when he was given this album to write about, he checked Wikipedia for her top five highest-grossing songs and used that as a comparison for Liberman. I don’t mean to be critical of the writer, but there’s something off-putting about suggesting that Carlton should be working towards become a mainstream hit again, but then criticizing her for “basic four-chord structures” and “vague lyrics” which are all too common in today’s mainstream music.
If you’re unsure of her intent, look at some things she’s said over the past few years: “[I want this album to] sound like a hazy dream” (in reference to Liberman); her intent for Rabbits was the feel of “an album you find… in the attic”; the melodies she writes are “built for a choir”. Carlton isn’t looking for the type of mainstream success that lead her into a toxic depression; she isn’t making music that supposed to be “catchy” or “[make] the world… pay attention”. In spite of what this author thinks, Carlton isn’t trying to become a top 40’s success again; she’s an indie artist experimenting with different sounds and communicating feelings that are too personal for any top 40’s song.
For people considering listening to this album, this is not your new workout/pump up album; this is an introspective daydream that you should set aside some time and tea for, and listen to on a lazy Sunday. Songs like “Take it Easy”, “Willows”, and “Nothing Where Something Used to Be” have delicate little melodies that actually will get stuck in your head. Songs like “Operator” and “Blue Pool” having a driving, dark undercurrent that will speed up your heart rate a little bit. Songs like “House of Seven Swords”, “Matter of Time”, and “River” will remind of you of the little moments of happiness that make up a lifetime. And honestly, anyone of these songs can become lullabies and send you to sleep, because every song is draped in hazy effects and blurring sound quality. By the time/if you make it to “Ascension”, the dream becomes a wash of feedback sound effects, barely distinguishable lyrics, and hazy piano chords.
If you came into this album expecting Carlton’s magnificent return to pop music, “Ascension”‘s loud chords will wake you up at this point, and you can write the album off as insignificant. If you came into this album prepared to take it as either an experimental indie album or a hazy daydream, you’ll walk away from a deeply introspective experience, quietly humming that one little melody that got stuck in your head from Liberman.
This review is off based on the fact that he is reviewing this album like it’s a follow up to A Thousand Miles or something…if you listened to her last record (2011’s Rabbits On The Run) you would know that this new album isn’t much of a departure at all and kind of right on track with a direction she’s been heading for a while to. Everyone is entitled to their own stance and review but it seems like most people review VC’s albums like she is Katy Perry or Taylor Swift. Thank god she’s not, and thank god we have artists like her.