It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry at pop music’s steadfast refusal to let talented vocalists simply sing, free from recording studio trickery and being straitjacketed into sounds that don’t complement their obvious talents. Katharine McPhee, the latest example of a record company brainlessly shackling an up-and-comer to enough lazy craftmanship to recall a half-dozen other, equally doe-eyed pop princesses (Christina, Rihanna, Britney, Beyoncé, etc.), is a maddening slush pile of midtempo ditties that don’t aim much higher than heavy rotation on some well-meaning adult contemporary radio station. That said, lead single “Over It,” with its quasi-Shania feel, is damn catchy in spite of itself; an expertly sculpted piece of fluff that will have heads bobbing and wallets opening, it’s the lone jewel amid gooey faux-R&B, maudlin piano ballads, and cuts that feel lifted directly from Nelly Furtado’s Loose. The record’s catchall philosophy smacks of a shotgun approach to demographics: throw enough disparate sounds on the sucker and we can sell it to anyone! Given McPhee’s roots in ratings juggernaut and national popularity contest American Idol, it’s unsurprising that her debut is less a personal statement than carefully planned product. It’s heartbreaking to read McPhee’s gushing liner notes about being able “to make the record [she’s] dreamed of.” Hope springs eternal that a young, gifted singer would have grander ambitions than waving to the crowd on TRL, but for McPhee, that tragically doesn’t seem to be the case.
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