It sounded intriguing: bring together a mega-talented Broadway star and a mega-talented studio/songwriting wizard to record an album of original music. Idina Menzel, a star of Rent and Wicked (and recently seen on screen in Enchanted), is one of very few Broadway stars of relatively recent vintage to have made the leap beyond Broadway into the wider culture. Producer extraordinaire and songwriter Glen Ballard, the genius other half of the Alanis Morrissette phenomenon of the 1990s, has more recently worked with rock and pop royalty ranging from the Goo Goo Dolls and Shakira to Dave Matthews and Annie Lennox.
As an admirer of both artists, I really wanted to like this CD. Unfortunately, the best that I can say about it is that it's produced and arranged really well. Adult contemporary pop is rarely a nursery for originality, so I wasn't expecting anything world-changing or socks-knocking-off. But given Ballard's heavy participation – he co-wrote many of the songs with Menzel – I was hoping for at least a few good tunes. The closing ballad, "Perfume and Promises," is nice. The title track and "Gorgeous" have halfway decent hooks. That's as good as it gets. The songs are so drowned in cliche that "uninspired" seems a kind way to put it. As an album, it's listenable, but only because of the pretty soundscapes.
All Menzel's vocal passion and fireworks and Ballard's studio wizardry can't polish bad, half-hearted, Disneyesque material into something truly shiny. As with Disney's latest Broadway shows, though, this is probably one of those situations where critical reviews mean little. Judging from most of the listener reaction at Amazon.com, Menzel's fans are out in force, and they love whatever she does.
I can't help it, though. I feel strongly about this. I could walk out onto the street with my eyes closed and in four seconds trip over a songwriter who could write better pop songs than these for Idina Menzel (or any singer). Hugely successful creative artists like Ballard seem to often lose perspective amid all the plaudits and awards, and start to believe that whatever they do is brilliant. And no one's willing to listen objectively and say the emperor has no clothes.
Maybe a star like Menzel, not yet a mature songwriter, needs a collaborator who's hungry to succeed. With the exception of that good ballad at the end, Idina Menzel hasn't been well served here on her first project as a singer-songwriter.