[26 February 2007]
In a pop marketplace where many successful female artists look and live much differently than their audiences, Adrienne Pierce’s “Everywoman” appeal is undeniably refreshing and welcomed. Vocally, Pierce does not display the type of virtuosity that would give the slightest impression of her being egocentric or unapproachable; instead she retains a seasoned quality that makes one believe she has known both tranquility and heartbreak. Plainspoken yet poetic, she writes lyrics which use the everyday to express feelings both universal and complex; her songs have even appeared in television shows whose central characters are portrayed as confident, complicated women; (“Fool’s Gold” on Grey’s Anatomy and “Lost & Found” on Veronica Mars. Rerecorded versions are found on Faultline).
On the Canadian singer-songwriter’s sophomore disc, she identifies and ingratiates herself with anyone who has ever weakened a little in the knees at the prospect of enduring a major life change. In biographical material, Pierce has explained how, in part, the album’s title makes reference to being at a place where life is shifting outside the limits of control. Pierce’s focus on the turbulent nature of change is understandable, having admittedly experienced a breakup while writing parts of the album. The images used to illustrate such change are pragmatic, expressing neither cavernous depression nor unrealistic hope. In context, descriptions of all night groceries, viewing neighbors from an apartment, losing household items and “sleeping with the television and all the lights on” become effective colors Pierce uses to paint a picture of real people with real problems, trying to make it through a very real life.
Lyrically and thematically, there is no denying Pierce’s extraordinary ability to come across as ordinary. Musically, her fanfare for the common woman becomes a bit of a tougher sell. On one hand, Pierce’s songs are likely to appeal to a wide audience, sounding as if written at an intersection between a Sheryl Crow greatest hits record (Faultline producer Jeff Trott helped write much of Crow’s singles catalog) and the melodic melancholy of Aimee Mann.
Accordingly, the album’s best songs are uncomplicated in nature and structure. “Fool’s Gold” begins simply enough, with accordion and a distantly strummed acoustic guitar, allowing Pierce the freedom to vocally and lyrically dictate crescendos in the song’s musical and emotional dynamic. The title track furthers this technique, allowing the instruments backing Pierce to settle into a relaxed, soulful groove that ably serves her lyrical confession of shortcomings. Another high point, “Lost & Found”, has a creative momentum initiated by driving acoustic guitar and augmented by mandolin and an active bass line. While the song’s chorus sounds a bit too poppy for its own good, the quality of what is happening in the verses and breaks makes this a forgivable offense. At their best, Pierce and her supporting cast prove simplicity need not sound boring, incorporating the aforementioned instruments as well as vocal loops (“Better Year”) and ethereal sounds (“Under That Cloud”) without busying the arrangement.
Yet, far too often, Trott and Pierce apply an unnecessary second coat of pop sheen to the material which seems disingenuous in light of the down-to-earth, forthcoming spirit wanting to break through. Pierce’s songs would be well served if dressed in earthier tones and employing more stripped down arrangements. Instead, much of the album features Pierce accompanied by stylish production that belies the artistic impression she might otherwise have hoped to establish. “Walk Through Me”, for example, suffers from an intro blemished by a cluttered layering of vocal tracks and out of place synthesizers. When sounds disentangle enough to bring clarity, and Pierce sings, “This is my house, come on in, come inside”, there is a sense of inequity between the lowering of Pierce’s emotional guard and the musical walls still constructed around her. It’s almost as if the creative players could not completely trust their instincts, and allow the proceedings to become too bare or revelatory. Additionally, some of Pierce’s sentiments are weighed down by uninspired melodies, with tracks like “Downside of Love” and “Better Things to Do” providing her with little else to do vocally than attempt to inject life into paint-by-number hooks.
In these and similar instances, Pierce’s unique qualities are diluted, presenting her in a more average light than seems deserved. While Faultline will likely be well-received by a substantial number of listeners, the promise of a more complete Adrienne Pierce record still exists. Is there fairness in criticizing Pierce’s music for not being real enough to match her lyrics/persona? Perhaps not, but an artist with as much potential to connect with, and create, a fan base outside the realm of what is dictated by radio programmers and promotional machines needs to seize the considerable opportunity before her.