Let me first admit that I’m not a music snob when it comes to pop music. In fact, I used to scare my indie friends by blaring Spice World whenever I felt in the mood to campily amp up the process of making myself fit for human consumption and go out for the night. I got over it, but then again, that’s what you’re supposed to do with pop music. Not every song is built to last and there is a time and place for music that is gaudy, disposable and the musical equivalent of mainlining Pixie Sticks. Especially for teenagers, whose musical introductions are usually attempts to feed the twin turbines of their idealism and libido, both of which seem to detonate at the same time. Pop music is the time-saving thief of everything interesting that’s going on in music, bringing you approximations of out-of-the-way talent and filtering out all of the edges to make for quick, glossy pleasure to add to the buzzing streams of information flooding our minds in daily frenzies. When you haven’t the meditative space for good, heady music, pop music comes to the rescue with its skirt-lifted immediacy and brain thwapping repetitions. Then, of course, there is pop music that is both saccharine and great, timeless and perfect for the moment, but frankly we need not concern ourselves with that here.
Rosey’s press packet is indeed daunting. I must have never reviewed a major label recording before because I was a bit surprised to find a package on my doorstep that looked like it must contain that church window I’ve been meaning to order. In addition to the nearly pleather gloss of the bulging folder (which, the janitorial staff at my day job sadly informed me, can’t be recycled), the packet is full of brightly colored reviews with the publication titles bolded or enlarged to nearly extortive sizes. I couldn’t help but laugh. As if reading that People, an asscan rag of cultural psychosis, loves the record should knuckle me into submission. I felt surrounded, as if all these other writers would start sending me weapons grade ill will should I fail to fall in line. Well, it turns out that they’re not all wrong, though this record should not have garnered such undiluted worship from the usual suspects. I’m gonna keep the 8x10 glossy, even though it looks like she should be posing with a gigantic crayon.
On to the record. “Love”, Dirty Child‘s opener is also one of its best offerings. With its Fiona Apple hickory-smoked vocals and trip-hop to the Kasbah beat, it’s an unadulterated bit of sexy dance pop. Rosey’s eclecticism works well on this track, with its swirl of tempo shifts and a tight acoustic refrain. “One” works in the same vein, with a whispered chorus cribbed from Three Dog Night’s “One” and its listlessly clubby undertow. Not to mention her purred references inviting us all to “step into her wet dream”. “Afterlife” takes a vague stab at the country-esque pop of Sheryl Crow. I did wonder, while listening to this track, why Rosey never just lets loose and belts its out. Though the lyrics rarely rise above platitudes, I couldn’t help but smirk at “Afterlife’s” line: “Enlighten me, I never wanna be here again”
When the album fails, it usually does so by not capitalizing on her honey-burnt pipes or by creating musical backdrops that are muddled, meandering dumps of dull. “Heaven” takes the overkill ballad to new heights in what sounds like Taylor Dayne fronting a pep rally band. Rosey’s voice has an arresting charm that simply flails when left to stumble drunkenly through a lush-mush grab bag of strings, drums and badly executed back-up vocals. For the same reasons, “Beautiful” rakes the ear with its nondescript slabs of orchestral backwash. Both songs feature a stint of that Mariah Carey over-singing that verges on the torturous.
The title track, according to the generously provided artist’s interpretations, chronicles a musician’s knee-scuffing rise to the top. While the beat manages to trudge it along, there’s really nothing to pull you in or keep you listening. It’s hookless. “Like a Dream” reverses flaws, putting a good hook in an incomplete template of a song, but it fares much better especially with the harmony-drenched controlled burn of her vocal flow.
“My Baby” reminded me too much of Kelly Clarkson showing her “versatility” by rubbing her grubby little chords all over a classic big band number. Although Rosey’s voice is much less high school choir than Kelly’s, her attempt to create a jazzy little croon falls achingly flat. There’s a not-so-fine line between having a musical style that defies categorization and having one that flippantly mines many musical styles in order to come up with something that is the musical mix-tape version of orphanage porridge.
Look, I’m not going to lie to you, I was slumped over my chair during most of this record. Could Esquire, Rolling Stone, Blender and Elle possibly be mistaken? Dirty Child will not blow your mind and pretty much treads the well-traveled waters of trip-pop and R&B, adding a voice that sounds like a sizzling shot of whiskey. However, in the god-forsaken wasteland of most pop music, Rosey stands out from the pack and rises far above the abysmally low bar. Sorry, that’s the best I can do: a compliment pockmarked with caveats. By the way, does anyone out there need a black glossy folder?