It’s hard to keep track of all these sparkly-toothed radio princesses, no doubt — so thank heavens their music isn’t nearly as complicated. Cosgrove’s eight-track debut, Sparks Fly, is a perfectly bite-sized chunk of perfectly bite-sized pop — in other words, songs about boys and girls, written by men and women, and performed by some of the sharpest studio vets in the business. If you’ve thumbed through the liner notes of any of these albums, you know the credits are going to include a few current hitmakers, and Cosgrove’s crew includes Max Martin, Dr. Luke, the Matrix, and Ke$ha. You also know you’re going to see a surprise appearance from a dried up former star or two, and Sparks Fly doesn’t disappoint: the fifth track, “Hey You,” was written by Kip and Paula Winger.
So no surprises there, and none in the generally glossy tilt of the music, which uses the same bright, synthesized textures and occasional splashes of rock guitars favored by Cosgrove’s peers. What might be surprising, though — at least if you’re inclined to dismiss all this stuff as garbage — is how well the album holds together. Of course, employing an army of high-priced song doctors (and, um, Kip Winger) never hurts — but this style of music is geared for disposability, and Sparks Fly embraces that with a verve that borders on genius. Who needs 15 tracks of this stuff? Or a dozen? Not you, and not the audience it’s aimed at, who will be on to the next sensation before Cosgrove is old enough for college. But by the same token, it’s sort of hard to argue with 26 minutes of breezy pop hooks — or a kiss-off song that twirls its hair as delightfully as “Oh Oh” (“I look so hot / The boys forgot that after N comes oh, oh”).
If you live with kids in the demographic that has already made Cosgrove a major Nickelodeon star (and her series, iCarly, a ratings record-setter), you should probably just resign yourself to hearing Sparks Fly more times than you’ll ever be able to count. But by now, you’ve most likely heard enough of this stuff that you understand the value in an album that’s over before you have a chance to get sick of it. Turns out brevity is the soul of wit and the key to a decent tween pop record.