Glen Ballard has proven he can expertly shape and package an artist’s songs for the masses, whether it be those of an unruly, garrulous composer like Alanis Morissette or an inexperienced girl group like Wilson Phillips. He can also be a liability, a producer capable of spit-polishing to the point where identities are almost completely dulled, as he did on Dave Matthews Band’s Everyday. So it was with trepidation that I approached the follow-up to Carina Round’s wonderfully raw major-label debut, The Disconnection, after seeing Ballard’s name printed in bold letters on the back of the CD case.
The key word for Slow Motion Addict is big: big reverb-y guitars, big bellowing vocals, big production values. The promising opening track, “Stolen Car,” sports a smart new-wave guitar riff that sounds like it could have been lifted from The Killers’s Hot Fuss and prepared specifically for rock radio, but the remaining first third of the album is rather anonymous, Ballard’s production slipping between savvy and overwrought with Round’s distinctive voice buried beneath all the gloss on tracks like “Ready to Confess.” For the record, she did a lot more confessing on The Disconnection; her lyrics aren’t exactly dumbed down here, but she aims for a more vague user-friendliness on songs like “Ready to Confess” and “Gravity Lies,” and, for better or worse, she succeeds.
While Ballard struggles to maintain his grasp on Round, she manages to crawl out from under him pretty much unscathed—and with her banshee shrieks in tact. Slow Motion Addict really begins with “Take the Money,” which, though slickly produced, is a ferocious rumination on fame and, as the background chant goes, “suc-cess.” “How long can I be hungry?” she squeals. Round’s voice is allowed even freer reign on “Come to You,” an all-out arena-rock ballad that’s simultaneously big and intimate and could easily become this year’s “Maps” (radio programmers with balls take note). The album gradually builds to an exhilarating finale that includes the title track, the looming, concrete façade of “The City,” and the chilling, string-laden massive attack of “The Disconnection,” which, for whatever reason, didn’t make it onto the final tracklisting of the 2004 album after which it was named.
Big isn’t always better, but, in the end, it works for Round. Slow Motion Addict is to The Disconnection as label-mates the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’s Show Your Bones is to the bloody-rare Fever to Tell, but Round’s album satisfies in a way the temperate, reined-in Show Your Bones doesn’t. She achieves a kernel of accessibility that’s necessary to survive on a label like Interscope without surrendering the tics that make her tick. It’s unclear whether or not Slow Motion Addict succeeds in spite of Glen Ballard’s presence, but it’s unlikely that even the late Arif Mardin could have dulled Round’s edges.