Haunted By You is flawed and successful in equal measures, making for a difficult listen.
Rachael Sage is a female singer-songwriter who has virtually nothing to distinguish her from any other radio-ready female singer-songwriter. This proves to be an overwhelming problem on Haunted By You and she struggles to find a distinctive element throughout, though to her credit she does try at various points. Unfortunately, every time there's even so much a glimpse of uniqueness or originality it's instantly watered down and marginalized to the same conventionally repetitious and bland radio pop song about heartache and heartbreak. By the closing song there's really no reason to go back and listen to any of the songs here because you could walk over to the radio and switch it to the most popular pop station and hear the same impersonal song three times in a seven-song cycle.
Beginning with the easygoing melodies and atmosphere of "Invisible Light" and "Abby Would You Wait", Sage lays virtually all her tricks on the table and none of them seem impassioned. This problem is an increasingly difficult one for the more laid-back sect of singer-songwriters to figure out how to solve. For every Brett Dennen there's 1,500 Jack Johnsons. While Sage certainly doesn't fall into the beach-side stoner category, that lack of distinction does plague her. During Haunted By You's third track, "California", she does pull out some fairly interesting tricks but even then, they feel like retreads. There's a nice orchestral arrangement that weaves its way through a bright keyboard part and horrendously trite lyrics. That it's one of Haunted By You's best tracks is a severe problem.
"The Sequin Song" continues Sage's over-dramatic vocal approach and frighteningly clichéd lyrics. Nearly every problem that Haunted By You has can be evidenced in this single song. While it is lushly arranged, the song itself doesn't warrant it. "Performance Art" starts off like a Vanessa Carlton song and eventually evolves into another over-dramatic song with frustratingly bland lyrics. "I don't need to tell you how to complicate this, you already know just how to break my heart" goes the chorus. It's stereotypical qualities only increase in number as the song progresses, rendering no reactions except winces. "Everything" separates the piano from the mix and, musically, is gorgeous. However, when Sage's incredibly erratic lyrics are added to it, it becomes less impacting and more frustrating. There are a few turns of phrases that do hint at potential talent but there's also lines that we've all heard a million times before, equaling out to disappointingly average.
"Ready" starts off with a gorgeous but brief instrumental piece that Sage derails with a familiar vocal pattern and some more cringe-worthy lyrics. There's a few production flourishes that are relatively interesting but that's all that and most of the other songs on Haunted By You have to offer. The title track is the worst distillation of Sage's vocal tendencies and re-emerging patterns on the album that's named after it. "Haunted By You" does eventually evolve into something that feels unique on the record but held up to the works of others, still feels tired and overdone. It's not surprising to find out that Sage's music has been featured at various times on the Lifetime channel. When "Birthday" started, I had an interesting moment of clarity in which I realized that the cello work on Haunted By You was actually the record's strongest aspect and, if isolated in the mix, creates a fairly touching record on its own. Unfortunately, the emphasis is all on Sage in these songs and the more they're layered, the less necessary they become.
"Hey Nah" incorporates the most interesting production flourishes of any of the songs on Haunted By You but they're all incredibly temporary and when they're combined, they become increasingly less interesting. "Confession" is perhaps the most offensively generic song on Haunted By You, an attempted tear-jerker that comes nowhere close to connecting on anything past a superficial level. While she does try the gender-switch approach, it just doesn't feel as believable or compelling as it does in the hands of a capable songwriter like Will Sheff. "Soulstice" follows it and comes closest to earning tears based on composition alone. Unfortunately, Sage once again derails it with tacky lyrics and an overly-dramatic vocal delivery. A reprise of "Invisible Light (Reprise)" closes the record in a relatively apathetic manner and is essentially just a more restrained version of the opener. It's a fittingly predictable and disappointing end to an incredibly disappointing record.