Sunday, February 25, 2007

Album Review: Jordan Pruitt - No Ordinary Girl

I make no promises for swift updates and new content over the near future, as I am busy with work and other things. I will continue post when my muse strikes, but don't expect the posting frequency to increase any time soon. It should stay about where it's been for the last month (8 - 10 posts a month or so). (Whoops, I did just make a promise so ignore the first sentence!)

I've written a lot about these individual songs before, but how well does it all work together as an album?

Jordan Pruitt - No Ordinary Girl
I've been a big Jordan Pruitt song ever since I first heard "Outside Looking In" in July of last year, in the context of the film Read It and Weep. I expected and hoped she would be a confessional savior. And in a lot of ways, she is, even though very little of the album is in the traditional confessional musical style of "Outside Looking In". Most of the songs feature an R&B tinge to them, but all feature lyrics about teen concerns and are thus confessional in that context, plus they feature fairly traditional confessional style melodies and song structures.
It's obvious that the lyricists on this album (Jordan herself with a few others, most notably Robin Scoffield) put a great deal of effort into crafting lyrics that not only outline teen concerns but that could conceivably have been written by a teenager and that can be easily understood and interpreted. All of the lyrics take on a very conversational tone, and are extremely frank and to-the-point about their topics. The work that they put in really pays off here, because they are, in large part because of this not despite this, excellent lyrics that generally have all sorts of interesting things going on. Songs take on topics such as popular girls, waiting to get physical until the relationship grows deeper, loneliness, and inevitably breakups. But there are only 2 traditional breakup songs on here, which is greatly appreciated. The topics addressed are in addition largely dealt with all the excessive drama that the teenage years bring. For example, the title track "No Ordinary Girl": we might try to guess based on the title is about how she's special and great. However, the song states that she's "No Ordinary Girl" in the sense that she wants to wait until she knows the guy better and has true love before she gets physical. This has the perhaps troubling implication that most high school/middle school girls want to get physical before having a romantic relationship, which may or may not be true, but remember that this is a TEEN who overdramatize everything (contrast, though, with the similar triumphant kissoff song "Later"). It always seems like the whole world is against you at that age. In fact, the feeling of the whole world being against you and of loneliness and of being an outsider permeates this entire album, though it's only explicitly addressed in "Outside Looking In".
When the lyrics get to meta, and become explicitly concerned with the trials and tribulations of teenage years, they tend to falter. I greatly prefer the songs like "Outside Looking In" and "No Ordinary Girl" and "When I Pretend" that take very general and universal feelings and put a distinctive teenage/conversational spin on them. When a song like "Teenager" or "Who Likes Who" or "My Reality" though, concern themselves directly and explicitly teenage matters, I think the lyrics tend to become less on the mark to me, maybe just because I'm well above the target age for the album though.
This is a minor complaint though; the album has first rate lyrics all the way through. The other genuinely first rate aspect of the album is the singing. Jordan Pruitt is one of the best new singers I have heard in a long, long time. It's not just that she has a beautiful voice (which she does), but she's a truly gifted interpreter and performer, and she really knows how to sell the drama of the song, and how to let her voice amplify the concerns of the song. On a song like "No Ordinary Girl", her voice sounds forceful and assured, but listen to the absolutely heartbreaking twang to her voice on "Outside Looking In" or her lifting, lilting voice on "Jump to the Rhythm". This girl is a real pro, and I anticipate/hope that this is far from the last we're gonna hear from her.
The music on the album is the (relative) weak point. They do "beautiful" extremely well as "Outside Looking In" and "When I Pretend" and "Waiting For You" are genuinely beatiful songs in an absolutely heartbreaking way. All three of those songs kinda make me tear up (but then again I am a softie). The music to the song also appropriately scores the lyrics in an appropriat light, in for example, the bouncy fun melody of "Who Likes Who" and the more edgy music in the chorus of "Over It" and the pretty low strings in "Outside Looking In". So from that perspective, there's not much to complain about. I'm afraid my concerns about the music are much more shallow than that: the melodies just aren't catchy enough. All of the songs have some catchy hooks and melodies, but there aren't any of the just knock-you-over catchy melodies that, for example, several Hannah Montana or Hilary Duff songs sport. For this reason, the album lacks a true standout, a real like top 10 single of the year contender (even though I think I did kinda underrate "Outside Looking In" in my year end singles list last year [#34], there's no way it makes top 10). Then again, all the melodies are at least good enough to drive the song into pretty good territory, even on my two least favorite songs "Who Likes Who" and "My Reality". A lot of the melodies and musicmanship tend to be rather generic on this album too. But that being said, even if it lacks a genuinely outstanding song, it is a consistently very good album. There are plenty of catchy hooks on here...if you can listen to "No Ordinary Girl" or "Later" without getting them in your head I admire/pity you...but there's not enough consistency there. On several of the songs (such as "Over It" or "Teenager") I actually prefer the verses to the chorus, which isn't generally a good sign on a pop song, as it usually implies the chorus falls kind of flat (which they, in fact, do on those two songs).
Final Rating/Comments: It's not worldly and intelligent like Ashlee, and it's not heartbreakingly deep like Kelly, but it's not going for those things. It's overdramatic, and it's conversational, and it's shallow, and it's deep, and it's generic, and it's a big ol lyrical mess, but that's what being a teenager is like. It's a shockingly accurate portrayal of teen/pre-teen life, the most accurate one I've ever heard. These songs could have come straight from a 9th grader's diary (well, a 9th grader who was a great writer) (in a good way!). And Jordan is such a great singer. If it just had more consistently great melodies, this would be a lock for my top 10 albums of they ear. As it is, 8/10, and it may well contend for my top 10 anyways. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts here. This is so close to being the genuine confessional classic I was hoping out of her in the wake of "Outside Looking In" and I'm now more convinced than ever that there's something like that in her future.

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