3.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
Every five minutes another post-adolescent actress takes a stab at being pop idol princess. Unlike her twenty-something contemporaries who make more headlines in handcuffs than in the studio, Emmy Rossum has the training and the pedigree to be a legit chart topper. What she may need more of in the long run is more meaningful material to help broaden her appeal.
As an actress, Rossum is best known for her roles in Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River,” and the disaster films “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Poseidon,” (the ill-fated remake of “The Poseidon Adventure” that capsized under the weight of bad press). Not many people know the soon to be twenty-one year-old began her career as a singer. At the age of seven she auditioned at The Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, singing “Happy Birthday” in an astounding twelve keys. Within five years, Rossum was a veteran opera singer who could sing in six languages and had polished her voice in stage productions of “La Boheme,” “Carmen,” and “A Mid Summer Night’s Dream,” while performing with opera legends Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo. Her performance in the movie version of “The Phantom of the Opera” earned her a Golden Globe nomination.
So Rossum has the props, but does she have the power? If the three-song preview of her upcoming album is any indication, Rossum should easily make the jump from opera child to pop diva.
The album’s first single, “Slow Me Down,” is a vocal landscape that immediately brings to mind the multi-layered new age elegance of a computerized Enya. Rossum managed to weave more than 150 vocal parts into the song, which unravels like an ornate Persian rug. The surprise is Rossum doesn’t blow out her voice at the ear-shattering level you’ve come to expect from a performer steeped in opera – her voice is a hushed, almost understated whisper. Multiplied a hundred and fifty times, it’s soothing, mesmerizing, and highly angelic, like a hundred hummingbirds dallying at a flower. She’s not pneumatic like Britney, squeaky like Gwen Stefani, or reassessing Marlene Dietrich like Madonna. When she whispers, you listen: “Slow me down, don’t let love pass me by. Just show me how, ‘cause I’m ready to fall. Slow me down, don’t let me live a lie. Before my life flies by, I need you to slow me down.”
Rossum continues to stride into Enyaville with “Stay,” another sweeping expanse of vocal over-dubbing. “Stay” works in portions of the saintly organ sound conjured up by Matthew Fisher in Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” amidst waves of vocal symmetry and pounding Celtic rhythms. “Stay for tonight. The sound of your heart racing faster for me is what will save me.”
The multi-textured vocal approach loses edge and its appeal in “Falling,” as Rossum gets more poppy and less ethereal. The music, which had previously flowed in a dream-like state, picks up a would-be Top 40 beat. At times, Rossum’s reverbed multi-tracked voice sounds as if it was recorded in the bowels of a Lear Jet as it darts in and out of the cracker box beat. You’ll also notice the lyrics lack depth. When Rossum looses her sensual layered whisper and she’s alone in the vocal spotlight, her gleeful, vacuum-sealed teenybopper tone sounds like a practiced, but not yet perfected put on. It’s not unlistenable, but in light of the maturity displayed in the previous pieces, “Falling” collapses amidst its own sugary pabulum, turning Rossum from a respectable Enya-clone into a G-rated version of Madonna (and what good is that?).
Despite her years on stage, Rossum seems to have a limited range. But she also knows her limitations, and in “Slow Me Down” and “Stay” she successfully disguises any vocal warts through third world ambiance and high tech overdubs. When Rossum pours on the production, the results are laid-back, pleasing sonic displays that will satisfy adults and enlightened Pop/New Age fans alike who appreciate the likes of Enya and Annie Lennox. When she tries to appeal to Clearasil crowd by dumbing down her lyrics, Rossum’s layered approach works against her, making her sound like a rookie recording artist in over her head.
Move over Lindsay Lohan, J Lo, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Paris Hilton. There’s a new singing celebrity sheriff in town who’s actually worth her 15 minutes of fame. Emmy won’t win a Grammy, but I’m willing to bet her first CD gets much better reviews than “Poseidon.”