I’ve been forced over the past few years to create a new gauge for music discrimination: good, bad and American Idol. I’ll leave the show bashing to someone else because, good Lord, I’ve done enough of that. When it comes to the contestants and their recordings, most tend to molder in a state of being okay — not good, not bad. The melodies are mostly familiar pop progressions, the topics steadfastly focused on the in love/out of love variety and hooks like the final chorus or pre-chorus acoustic breakdown, all to soak in every note of the singer’s vocal acrobatics, are abused with dispassionate abandon. The reason is simple: the songs were written for the broadest spectrum so that anyone, from a top tier contestant to a bottom rung warbler, could easily stand behind the microphone. It may be their album, but they’re often the most interchangeable part of the arrangement.
This makes Kimberly Caldwell’s debut disc Without Regret all the more confounding. She was a season two participant and, therefore, should have enough distance from the show, its format, and its Play-Doh squeeze mold process. Regrettably, she doesn’t take advantage of it. On the surface, the disc is not terrible and those who aren’t inclined to be picky will probably enjoy it for what it is — a meticulously formulated pop-rock album. Caldwell’s voice is on the husky side, giving her at times the vocal gravitas of Kim Carnes or Bonnie Tyler. None of the songs have the spunky mystery of “Bette Davis Eyes” or the bombast of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” She expresses devotion to her partner, her heartbreak over his leaving, her cliched “I Will Survive”-style anthem, her rapture that said partner is back in her life or new partner has replaced old partner. There’s no deviation, and neither is there much variety in the melodies; it’s the same repeated batch of notes as on prior contestants’ recordings, and bloody likely the same that will be on future ones too.
That said, it’s all so competent that you don’t rush to eject the disc. You’re not listening to digital failure, just a degree of digital resignation to the assembly line fashion of doing things, right down to Caldwell’s cheesecake cover photo — all suggestion, but whose? I would not be surprised if she eked out a couple of Hot 100 tunes from Without Regret, but nothing here suggests a bright future. Every note, every word is so intent on mimicking the here-and-now, how could it be otherwise? The album is not bad, but I can’t really say it’s particularly good either. It’s American Idol — let the chips fall where they may.
Without Regret is available from Amazon.
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