“I don’t believe in anything but myself.”
So begins Ingrid Michaelson’s latest CD, Everybody. While it becomes quickly evident that Everybody provides an exploration of the themes of love, this early warning echoes through the rest of the album. These aren’t songs of selfishness, however, or narcissism. They’re tales of lost love and of the need to find oneself, either in love or outside of it.
It’s apparent from the first that Michaelson has been experimenting with her music, something which works in her favor more often than not. Everybody works well with itself, all the songs bound together by a common thread but readily distinguishable from each other. Far from being so soft or sweet as her last work, Girls and Boys, Everybody highlights Michaelson’s talent for complex simplicity. Her music is clear and lovely, backed by lushly intricate strings and irresistible handclaps, her diction plain but packing a punch in numbers like the bittersweet “So Long”: “You’ve made me into someone / who should not hold a loaded gun.”
Michaelson’s voice grabs hold and doesn’t let go, pulling the listener on an emotional rollercoaster; though she more readily rushes down long and seemingly endless slopes, the uphill climb is just as terrifying. It’s the sweet, dark voice of someone who has known pain and still hopes. She has a talent for making songs sound light and delicate, an effective contrast to the inherent intensity of tone that sells the wealth of emotion behind the simplest of lines. Here are loves that cannot be resisted, but should be, and loves that did no wrong but have to be left behind. Here is the story of taking a chance even as Michaelson’s asks “How do I know? Where’s the proof in you?” That, these songs suggest, is the trick — there is no proof to love, only the amusement park thrills and spills of jumping without knowing if you’ll fly.
Hope peeks out from unexpected corners here. In “Once Was Love,” a break up song, is found surprising optimism — the story of a woman who has to let go in order to make her way on herself, there’s no sorrow for what’s been lost, only all the possibility of building your own future. Experimentation pays off in “Locked Up,” which is reminiscent of no one so much as the Hush Sound, but remains unmistakably the work of Ingrid Michaelson, matching unhappiness with a delicious strut-and-stomp tune. “Sort Of” is dizzyingly lovely, delicate and strong at once, as Michaelson sings of love that uplifts even as it destroys, and there’s nothing to make the heart ache like the plaintively yearning “Are We There Yet?” The opening number, “Soldier,” starts things off strong and is the kind of song to stay with you a long while. It’s “Everybody,” though, the album’s title song and easily the happiest number in the bunch, that will get stuck in your head, a sweetly sunny cry for love backed by Michaelson’s signature ukulele.
Everybody is not without its pitfalls. “Incredible Love” falls flat, offering little to make it stand out, and the album closes on its weakest note, its first single “Maybe” which sounds too much like any other pop song on the radio. Listening to this album, it becomes all too apparent as well that Michaelson has a deep-seated love of building every song to a crescendo, spinning her tunes headily higher and higher. As gorgeous as this is every time, it still becomes unfortunately predictable when the album is listened to in sequence. All the same, this is a fitting successor to Ingrid Michaelson’s previous work, showing growth without sacrificing that which make her music so deliciously distinctive.