While Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson gush on and on about growing up in the public eye, pop starlet Mandy Moore is actually doing it. Mandy Moore, her third album in three years, is appropriately titled as it finds the 17-year-old singer securing a bit more creative control than her Britney-fied debut (her first single, “Candy,” was a virtual carbon-copy of the Spears formula). Mandy Moore is a refreshingly modest pop-rock excursion that gives Moore the opportunity to differentiate herself from the competition.
The album's lead single, “In My Pocket,” is a beckoning departure from Moore's previous hits. Home to one of the best pop hooks of the year, the track's lyrics are far more penetrating than anything on her peers' recent efforts: “Among the many muted faces/You try to find me in the spaces/You're drawn to my song.” “In My Pocket” is one of several tracks that feature a distinct Middle Eastern vibe courtesy of veteran producer Emilio Estefan Jr., including the lovelorn “You Remind Me” and “Saturate Me.” The latter features smooth harmonies, live guitars, and a sitar, its simple metaphor rendered with purity: “My soul is evaporating…Storm around me, bring the tide.”
Nineties pop singer Jon Secada lends his songwriting skills and vocals to two tracks, “One Sided Love” and “It Only Took a Minute.” The former is the album's hardest track, infused with electric guitars and a sexy, mature vocal delivery that all but negates the song's somewhat trite chorus. The Jewel-esque “When I Talk to You,” co-penned by Moore herself, is organic and sweet, featuring acoustic guitars and a lush string arrangement; unfortunately, the Diane Warren ballad “From Loving You” sounds like a LeAnn Rimes throwaway. Both tracks, however, nicely display some of Moore's usually hidden vocal chops, proving the Neutrogena spokesgirl is a whole lot more than just a second-rate Britney.
Moore exudes sophistication beyond her years, but tracks like “17” are reminders of this ingenue's age. She sings, “Think I made my mind up/I got time to grow up,” and the sentiment goes far deeper than it seems. She's clinging to her innocence while combating the assiduous sway of adulthood. Yet two years ago, who would have guessed that Moore would emerge as the most progressive of the teen-pop bunch? Mandy Moore is at once uncomplicated and refined, flaunting even more potential for the singer/MTV-host/burgeoning actress. Just keep reminding yourself: She's only 17.