Stop by Tower Records soon and look for this free CD. Pop Stars is a collection of songs by those who might well top anyone’s current list of pop stars. Tiffany, Poe, Pru, James Michael, JS-16, the Juliana Theory, Jane Wiedlin, Gomez, and Five for Fighting are assembled here to promote Pop Stars the TV show, a series I would never have known existed if not for this CD.
Judging from the jacket blurbs, Pop Stars the TV show might be the music biz version of Survivor and Temptation Island mixed in with a talent showcase. The premise: “Thousands will audition, only five will be made stars.” The only thing this CD has to do with Pop Stars the TV show is cross-promotion to keep the idea of pop stars en vogue. Nonetheless, the WB staff did a fine job selecting material and giving these artists welcome exposure (and the public a free CD).
The show’s mission statement is on the CD jacket: “Real life. Real tears. Real talent.” The major theme of the compilation is pretty much the same, particularly in matters having to do with the heart. The love songs of the new millennium as presented here really tear open a vein and let it bleed.
A teen pop star of the ‘80s, Tiffany is back with a lovely ballad touched with sighing cellos and sustained piano. “If Only” is a haunting song where the first gush of memory of unrequited love instantly transforms into a contemplation of a loss so great she exposes suicidal tendencies. “Scarlet red drips from my veins, what’s wrong with me that I imagine such things?” she asks in the first line. Any person who is naturally gifted with a powerful enough imagination to soar to the heights, who can reach out and almost touch the invisible plane holding the flights of fancy aloft, can just as easily be thrown to a corresponding depth when the imagined outcome doesn’t materialize. This isn’t a dark song, merely a statement she believes her feelings run deep in disappointment of what might have been.
“Hey Pretty” is an invitation to take a ride at 3 a.m. with an edgy, adventurous, and obviously eccentric sort of girl. Poe takes us on a tour of her interior. Like a contemporary Alice in her own ultramodern Wonderland, she falls down into the mental rabbit hole and follows the tunnels and stairways into the confusing warrens of where she is at. All we know for sure is when she falls for someone, she falls hard, like a 2,000-floor building, but she does sound cool.
Pru burns her “Candles” because she’s burned out on both ends. She runs a verse from Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears” to provide a parallel story to that song if not quite a reverse image. As is typical of mirrored images, one of the opposing images is the real one. Smokey’s heartbroken in his song and gets through by disguising his feelings. Pru works to mend her heart, and she is as brutally honest about her pain and anger as everything else.
Jane Wiedlin’s little-girl voice is a perfect vehicle for the self truths of “Icicle”. She realizes she can’t go against her own nature any more than she can defy a natural force like the gravity that pulls her heart from her chest. She knows she will fall. While aware of her own fragility, “clear as glass, twice as weak,” she still hopes for change, “I wish that I were strong, impossible to break.” Fire and ice and everything nice, that’s what these songs are made of. Also, melody and lyrics that show awareness, clarity, and depth.
“We’re at the Top of the World” celebrates the heights of love attained. But the Juliana Theory’s lead singer reminds me of a young Jonathon Richmond singing about achievement as a “Madison Avenue Man”. The boy groups on this CD are a little like Smokey. They’re heavy in their groove and disguised by lyrics obstinately opaque.