Monday, July 20, 2009

Album Review: Battlefield

Requester: Riha

It’s been said that Jordin Sparks is trying to emulate Kelly Clarkson’s career: A mildly received debut album followed by a sophomore pop masterpiece. Well, although I can see how Ms. Sparks has put a great deal of effort into her sophomore album, Battlefield, I think there are some striking contrasts between Kelly and Jordin that make me wonder if Jordin will reach Kelly’s level of success. The bottom line is that Battlefield is a good album with many strong songs, but the way that Jordin has cast herself as an artist may impede her ability to reach multi-platinum sales. Wow, that was formally written.

Let’s start with the good. The production value on Battlefield is clearly much higher than it was on Jordin’s self-titled debut. The songs have bigger hooks, stronger melodies, and better lyrics. The title track is a power ballad of epic proportions, with a chorus that soars above most other pop fare. Walking on Snow, the album’s opener, has a slick guitar line that evokes some of Kelly’s best songs (I promise I thought of that before Slezak wrote about it) and has a feel-good message about a broken relationship. In fact, there really is not a song on the entire album that I would consider a disaster (something I would not say about her debut). Well done, Jordin.

Another thing I have to comment on is Jordin’s songwriting. Four of the tracks on Battlefield were co-written by Jordin and, although I don’t know how much input she actually had, the final products are quite good. The Cure, which closes the album, is perhaps one of the best songs on the entire CD. The chorus is quite effective, the hook is irresistible, and the lyrics are surprisingly touching. Faith is another strong track, also co-authored by Sparks. She performed it during the inauguration, so the song has been floating around YouTube for a while. Nevertheless, it’s nice to hear the studio track because the grainy, hand-recorded video does not capture the power of the song. The common thread is that her voice is the clearest on these tracks and I really feel that these songs most strongly represent who Jordin is as an artist.

Now, for the criticism. In the pursuit of pop perfection, Jordin has sacrificed much of her identity as an artist. When Kelly released Breakaway, she refined her image and produced some of the best pop songs of the past decade. On Ms. Clarkson’s debut and through her tenure on American Idol, she had a rock edge in her voice—something she capitalized on for her second CD. Jordin, on the other hand, has sacrificed her defining characteristics: A sweet, virginal personality with a good deal of innocence. For all the faults with her debut, her naivety was there and her pure, strong voice was intact. Now, Jordin’s voice is over-produced and auto-tuned on much of Battlefield. Her tracks have adult lyrics, which seem a bit off coming from Jordin. It comes across as disingenuous and eliminates some of the honest emotion she was able to convey on her debut. The last few tracks are clearly Jordin, but songs like Emergency (911), Watch You Go, and S.O.S. (Let the Music Play) cast her as a dance hall artist, yet her voice is stripped of any defining character. She may have better material to work with, but instead of refining herself she’s lost herself. Kelly Clarkson, she is not.

The bottom line is that I really enjoy listening to the songs on Jordin’s CD, but in losing her voice I do not think she’ll become a superstar. There’s no identity on Battlefield. Is it better than her debut? Yes. Is it more Jordin? No. That’s a shame.

Rating: 3/5 stars
Savage Songs: Battlefield, The Cure, Walking on Snow.

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