While Britney Spears hangs on to her old life as the bubblegum pop girl and Jessica Simpson and Christina Aguilera also holding on to a shred of their bubblegum pop past in their music, Mandy Moore has chosen to completely ditch it and come back with a much stronger voice and a promising talent for penning lyrics. The last we saw her in music was watching her dance awkwardly to 'Candy' and sounding as if she inhaled helium. Since then, she's gone to act in a few movies, with mixed results but even while she was pursuing a career in acting, she also took the time to completely retool her musical talents, which got her in the door to Hollywood in the first place. The result?
'Wild Hope,' a result of almost seven years of retooling, recrafting, and learning some things along the way and could be considered new life for the 23 year old Moore, the youngest of all the pop tarts that came out of the conveyor belt between 1997 and 2000. And as said before, unlike her contemporaries (or former after listening to the first two tracks), she got better with her voice which as a teenager was never strong to begin with, denounced her pop past, and learned how to write music for herself.
The 12-track earthy, folky, and acoustic-driven set is mainly a slower affair, not as slow and earthy as a Norah Jones CD since there are a couple comparatively upbeat numbers like 'Few Days Down.' 'Adore Her' may give her fans a clue into what she'll probably do next; the song is a pop/rock number with a country overtone...one of the better tracks on the album, which starts off rather OK and maybe unimpressive with 'Extraordinary' and 'All Good Things,' both of which are clocked under three minutes and the two weakest songs on the album. In a rare occurence in today's albums, the title track in this set is actually the strongest track of all of them. The sub-3 minute number has a haunting feeling with the string arrangement and the lilting acoustic guitar and combined with Mandy's strong vocals, which features her exclusively in the the lower middle to lower range. She goes next into deeper lyrical territory with the 3 longest songs on the album each, the once-again comparatively uptempo 'Nothing That You Are,' the mildly shoot-at-the-hip 'Latest Mistake' and the smart-sounding 'Ladies' Choice.' Overall the three songs show that Mandy still has a lot to learn on writing a song, but for the first time, not bad considering many of her former contemporaries still can't hold a pen to a piece of paper except for maybe Christina Aguilera. The album ends with an obvious homage to Sarah McLachlan, 'Gardenia.' The song starts with the familiar pensive deep piano and piano-driven cracking sweet melody that is the hallmark of McLachlan and even the vocal delivery is similar to hers.
Overall 'Wild Hope' is a HUGE step forward for the 23 year old singer/actress. It is obvious she has a desire to improve her music and expand her horizons, unlike some people in music we know. She has some good lyrical sense, but there are times when it sort of flies away and it gets exposed big-time in a few spots on the album. But for a first try, not bad at all. The start of the album is something she needs to work on. It's admirable she put the two worst tracks on top, but you almost never start off on the wrong foot. 'Extraordinary' was the worst of the two, with a real hokey radio-friendly feeling to it. Otherwise, take those two out, pretty good album. Check my ratings, which reflect the CD as only the last 10 tracks and the overall rating with those two tracks in it.
Hopefully we see a huge improvement in the writing department on her next effort, which hopefully won't be another seven years from now. 'Wild Hope' should do decent in stores, but her seven-year absence may take a huge bite from sales. Then again, the demand for this kind of acoustic-driven pop/rock is huge these days.
Name: Wild Hope
Label: The Firm/EMI
Release Date: June 19, 2007
My rating: 4.3 out of 5
(for the last 10 tracks), overall: 3.7 out of 5
(less-than-stellar (OK at best) start bogs down 'Wild Hope')
Alan Ho is the chief head of Musiqtone. You can contact him at email@example.com