On her major label debut, Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt, street-performer-turned-recording-artist Lily Holbrook sounds, at turns, nymphish like Vanessa Carlton, hearty like Jewel (particularly on a Celtic-style cover of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Mama, I’m Coming Home,” a quasi-tribute to Holbrook’s late brother), and even wholesome like Mandy Moore (“Bleed”). But Holbrook mostly sounds like her biggest influence, Tori Amos. Similar to Carlton, Holbrook sometimes just mimes Amos’s distinctive style, but also manages to crossbreed that sound with her own unique musical personality. Of course, such ambition in the hands of a young girl (she’s referred to as simply “twentysomething” in the accompanying press bio) could be a disaster, and clichéd imagery abounds, from Humpty Dumpty (“Running Into Walls”) to mermaids, fairies, and dragons (“Mermaid”).
Luckily, Holbrook’s melodies prevail and her private, post-adolescent woes are tempered by less indulgent cultural observations: “Make Them Wonder” is the song one might write after finding his or her way inside Britney Spears’s head (“They’re all fucked up on the American dream/Who are they to call me obscene?/I like to make them wonder who’s in control”), while “When In Rome” finds Holbrook trying to fit her patently ‘90s-era singer-songwriter moxie into a pop landscape still recovering from Brit’s padded bra (and Ashlee’s padded vocals). Likewise, “Cowboys And Indians” is a surprisingly understated (and un-corny, for what it’s worth) call for world peace (“I see witches still burning/And the world keeps on turning”), but “Bleed,” on the other hand, is less successful—a too obvious condemnation of the culture of cosmetic surgery that could have been the theme song for MTV’s I Want A Famous Face.
“Bleed” typifies the problem with the second half of the album: the first half might sound a little too much like Tori and not enough like Lily, but it’s convincing and consistent; the album’s last few songs are anything but. The No Doubt-style “When In Rome” is completely out of place and the final track, “Three Inch Heels,” simply fails at evoking the pangs of growing older. But in spite of its fairy tale imagery, “Mermaids,” originally from her self-released 2000 album, fully captures Holbrook’s struggles to maintain her innocence amid the trials in the surrounding world (“I will not slip into their world,” she thinks wishfully), and it’s this conceit that ultimately holds the album together. The CD booklet is filled with images of the singer wearing a corset, carrying a parasol, and dancing in a graveyard, while the title, Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt, reflects nostalgia for a time in Holbrook’s life that never actually existed—and she knows it. Like Amos, she lives in a fantasy world in order to endure the harsh reality around her.