Special To The Chronicle
Special To The Chronicle

Ingrid Michaelson
2/5 stars

I wanted so badly to like this record. Ingrid Michaelson is a prolific, talented artist whose endearingly sweet, simple vocals and charming expressions of romance and heartbreak have earned her a significant following. For an artist who has produced such memorable, personal records as "Girls and Boys" (2007) and "Be OK" (2008), "Lights Out" unfortunately falls into mainstream, overdone pop. Michaelson’s sixth album is wholly disappointing in comparison to her previous work.

Generally, the album is fun and easy to catch on to, but it is emotionally vacant. Sappy and obvious instead of cheeky and conversational, it loses the air of confessional vulnerability that fans originally related to. Michaelson has jumped on the folk-pop bandwagon (too late, I might add), when her real strength lies in cozy and wintry stripped-down simplicity. Still, her songwriting has lost none of its actual sincerity. “Stick” exemplifies this: “Did any of me ever stick at all?/I’ve got somebody new/He dances just like you” is quintessentially her, but I had to listen frustratingly hard through the synth-pop and repetitive chorus to get to it.

"Lights Out" is louder, heavier and more produced than the work old fans know and love. Over a third of the tracks feature male duets—not in sweet harmonics as in her past work—but rather as unnecessary components that overshadow Michaelson. The heavy presence of the male harmonies make her sound cliché and obvious in a Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran kind of way. “One Night Town” is a prime example, as Mat Kearney’s harmonies weigh down Michaelson’s crystal clear soprano. “Wonderful Unknown” is less offensive in this sense. Greg Laswell isn’t a drain on the song’s spirit, but definitely doesn’t add anything either.

The better tracks are those that sound most like the old Michaelson. “Ready to Lose” sounds closest to her original style, reminiscent of “Are We There Yet." “Open Hands” harkens a little back to her previous work, more dreamy and sultry than the rest of the tracks and possessing classic likability. However, it’s still a slow ballad—nothing new on the indie scene.

One of the tracks that stands out most, “Warpath,” is an interesting experiment for the artist, delving into vintage bluegrass, retro soul and funk territory. It sounds like something Ingrid would sing onstage with an old silver box microphone. This song is at least a step in an intriguingly different direction.

Maybe it’s a good thing that in this album Michaelson no longer sounds like the background music for a holiday sweater commercial. It’s nice that she’s trying something new, but it doesn’t work for her at all. "Lights Out" feels like such a disappointment because her slow-burning, soulful, intimate sound had the potential to move in a much fresher and distinctive direction. Here, it falls short of doing so and makes me worried that she has exhausted her artistic likability.