As the onslaught of teen artists who electrified the charts in the late ‘90s/early Ought’s matures, it’s been pretty interesting to see who’s tried to make the jump from kid to adult star. Actually, for all the hoopla about Jessica and Nick and Britney and the like, the only folks from that era who have actually solidified themselves as favorites with both the people and the critic-types are Justin & Christina (who, with a double-album lurking ahead, may be setting herself up for quite the fall). While it’s been fun to see these guys and girls try for stabs at adult stardom, they haven’t all been successful, which in a weird kind of twisted way, makes it even more fun to watch.
That brings us to Ashley Parker Angel. “Wait a minute,” you ask. “Who?”. OK, remember O-Town? They were sort of a second rate Backstreet/*Nsync/98 Degrees-type group who were created on the first season of Making the Band. With the distinction of being the first act signed to Clive Davis’ J Records, the O-Towners debut went platinum, boosted by songs like “Liquid Dreams” and “All Or Nothing”. Still don’t remember them? Well, good, because those songs were frickin’ ODIOUS!! After a second album that went belly-up, O-Town broke up. Angel, who get screwed in much the same way most young artists find themselves screwed, was soon broke and living in L.A. Then the reality fairy dropped another dollar under his pillow, and the MTV show There & Back documented Angel’s struggle to eliminate his has-been status. Well, he might be a reality TV star, but is his first solo album, The Soundtrack to Your Life, any good?
Um, not really.
Soundtrack isn’t a train wreck of an album, to be fair. It’s a pleasant, agreeable pop/rock album. Much like O-Town’s second album (yes, I actually listened to the thing) dropped goopy pop ballads for a bit more of a tough, rock-etched sound, Soundtrack has loud guitars and structurally, could easily be a Goo Goo Dolls album. However, Johnny Rzeznik’s voice has personality, and Ashley Parker Angel sounds like… Nick Carter? Actually, this album has very strong similarities to the Backstreet Boy’s solo album, Now or Never, which came out (and flopped HARD) in the wake of Timberlake’s Justified.
The production on this album is certainly pop-radio friendly. You’ll easily recognize the folks behind the boards here. There’s Max Martin, who’s gone from teen-pop savior to post-teen-pop savior over the past half-decade. There’s the Matrix, who’ve been heavy on Adult Top 40 radio with hits from Avril Lavigne, Jason Mraz, and Liz Phair, and there’s Soulshock and Karlin, a duo who have produced a string of urban acts ranging from Monica to Tupac, unveiling a previously unheard rock edge on this album. Unfortunately, all the production in the world can’t save the fact that you can put this album on repeat for twenty-four hours straight and barely remember a single thing about it. The songwriting, in particular, is quite generic, with love songs and character studies so common you can practically finish lines before Angel does. The end result is completely faceless and boring—much… like… O-Town… was.
Hmmmm… (light bulb in head switches on).
It’s not hard to figure out who the Influences were here. The album’s title track has an agreeable, summery bounce that will have you checking your CD player to make sure that you’re not listening to Smash Mouth, while “Who Cares” ponders “strawberry daffodils” and has a trippy ambience that means that Angel and his producers were indulging in a little bit of Beatles during this album’s creation (there’s also the very Lennon-ish piano ballad “Where Did You Go?”). Meanwhile, “Beautiful Lie” is a direct rip of Vertical Horizon’s “Everything You Want”, one of the finest examples of faceless pop/rock you could ever think of.
There’s no denying the radio-ready sheen of this album. All of these songs are perfectly ready for massive consumption on your local “Adult Alternative” Top 40 station in between John Mayer & Kelly Clarkson. However, what sounds good for a fleeting moment on your radio doesn’t always sounds good when you buy the album and bring it home, and Angel’s debut is fairly generic and unimpressive once you take a solid listen, which means that he hasn’t learned much of a lesson since his O-Town days.
But then, there’s always another reality show. They DO say the third time’s the charm…
Ashley Parker Angel - Let U Go