Diana DeGarmo was such a memorable contest on American Idol not just because of her powerhouse voice but also because of her cheery personality. She was so bubbly and full of life and so chipper that it was practically contagious while at the same time, ever-so-slightly irksome. And that same effervescence is splashed all over her debut album, Blue Skies. The 12-track album is a collection of bubbly, perky, occasionally melancholy pop/rock tunes about the ups and downs of life and love as seen through the eyes of a 17-year-old girl. Its youth in a bottle set to some rock guitars and percussion and while it may occasionally cause your stomach to churn, its mostly good-natured, contagious fun.
The biggest surprise about this project is that its not so much generic, bubblegum pop/rock. It actually carries a little weight. Leadoff track, Cardboard Castles is a prime example. Against a somewhat somber backdrop of mellow guitars and percussion, which slightly rises up on the hook, Diana convincingly pulls off the tale of 2 people who both chase failed dreams and feed off their fantasies. The subject matter will be a pleasant surprise while the catchy hook along with Dianas vocals is what will make it stick. The semi-inspirational title track, Blue Skies, follows and goes for more of a pop/rock sound with a country lean. Penned and produced by John Shanks, who helms about 75% of the project, this track along with his several other contributions will draw Diana instant comparisons to all the Ashlees/Lindsays/Hilarys on the market. And even if shes not drastically deviating from that genre blueprint, its the vocals and songs like this, which have heart, that make her a worthy contender.
Lead single, Emotional, is actually one of the more underwhelming records on the album. By no means a bad song, its just not as catchy or as much of a standout as some of Dianas other records. But it stands to reason that its pop/AC appeal and the songs more vocal showcase is the main reason why this was chosen to represent this project. Its good but there are better representations to be found. Then I Woke Up is probably the albums most bubbly moment and doubles as the one most likely to cause a stomachache after repeated listens. Johns production is catchy but sounds a bit too bubblegum and manufactured and the whole concept of daydreaming is too teen for Dianas own good. A few catchy lines here and there (Im a little Lynyrd Skynyrd/a little 50 Cent) but only worth an occasional listen. Same goes for All I Never Wanted. Vaguely reminiscent of Ashlees Love Makes The World Go Round in terms of sound, its also a bit underwhelming and doesnt really strike out at you or stick with you well enough to garner repeated listens.
Diana quickly returns to top form with the *gasp* R&P ballad, Go On and Cry. Similar to the material found on Kellys debut (but way less generic), its definitely one of the records standouts. David Fosters simple backing production (drums, horns, strings, its all there) that swells in theatrics to a climax is a perfect suit for Dianas vocals; featherweight and tender at the beginning, they progress into that powerhouse vocal performance were waiting for. Dianas still too young to really inject the pained passion into this song that would wring it dry of emotion but shes definitely got the heart and still pulls it off well. The Difference In Me is another catchy pop/rock song thats good but isnt a standout. Catchy production, a catchy hook, even a catchy concept about desiring to change for no one but self but still nothing that screams play it again Sam.
Redemption comes once again, this time in the form of the mid-tempo rocker, Till You Want Me. Although I get some eerie H. Duff vibes, rest assured Diana does a much better job. The pensive production is a nice compliment for the songs overall lyrical atmosphere, as Diana does a great job as a girl desperate what her significant other desires her to be. A relatively simple pop/rocker that does a great job of being a tune thats more than meets the eye. On the flip side, as Ive noted in past reviews, Ive always felt the American Idol singles were always a bit too theatrical, dramatic, and schmaltzy. But both Fantasia and Diana got decent singles this time. Be not mistaken, Dreams has its shared factor of theatrics, dramatics, and schmaltz but Dianas impassioned vocal performance and the inspirational atmosphere carries the song over well.
Thanks to that damn DirecTV Freeview special that airs all weekend long, this month profiling on Diana, I basically got a free preview of her album. And the song that made me actually want to check the album out was Boy Like You. Though certainly not the best song, as I soon found out, this one seemed to have the perfect balance of catchy pep. The guitars seemed to crunch a little harder, the vocals had a little more attitude, and this song is the most in-your-face of the lot. No matter your gender, Im sure we all, to varying degrees, will be able to somewhat to Dianas tune dedicated to the boy that was content with being just friends. The lyrics capture Dianas teenage anguish quite well on here; probably the most endearing record on the album since it was written for every girl (or guy) whose hearts been broken by a boy (or girl) like (that). OK, Dianas had time to vent and now were back to her happy-go-lucky side with Dream, Dream, Dream. And no, its not a cover of the Everly Brothers tune used in those commercial ads (for a product I cannot remember!). Nope, its a John Shanks original about someone believing in you so much to the point of inspiring you to dream even more. This wouldve been a cute, sweet, and fun end to this project. But Diana has to go out in true AI fashion, with her ballsy cover of Melissa Manchesters Dont Cry Out Loud. Agreed upon by many to be the song that cost her the title, Dianas performance has heart and she definitely gives it her all but its not as justified a cover as it shouldve been and sounds out of Dianas league. Plus, its a predictably boring way to end the album.
Released just 2 weeks after Fantasias debut, Blue Skies peaked at a disappointing #51 (even Justin Guarini did #20!) and quickly got lost in the shuffle. Why? I see 2 very good reasons. 1) a major lack of promotion (album drops in December, video drops in February) and 2) although its a pretty good pop/rock record, its not the pick of the litter. Despite Diana having the better vocals out of her contemporaries, the production is a bit predictable and the lyrics, for the most part, are standard fare. Theres plenty out there who used the predictable pop/rock blueprint (mellow verses and blaring hooks) with much better executions. Not saying this is a bad record because its far from it. Its a solid collection of sweet, carefree, pop/rock tunes perfectly suited for Dianas personality. The album has heart but having heart doesnt always equate into record sales. So heres to hoping that people get smart about Diana DeGarmo and realize that Blue Skies is like candy; too much of it will give you a stomachache but just the right amount will more than satisfy your pop/rock tooth.
1. Cardboard Castles* ($2.50)
2. Blue Skies ($2.25)
3. Emotional ($2.00)
4. Then I Woke Up ($1.99)
5. All I Never Wanted ($2.00)
6. Go On And Cry* ($2.50)
7. The Difference In Me ($1.99)
8. Till You Want Me* ($2.50)
9. Dreams ($.99)
10. Boy Like You* ($2.50)
11. Dream, Dream, Dream ($2.25)
12. Dont Cry Out Loud ($.99)
Album Worth: $23.47 - Mm Mm Good!
Great Music to Play While: realizing how annoying your girl next door can be.