Ingrid Michaelson is most well known for her charming tunes like “The Way I Am,” “Be OK” and “Everybody.” She strums her ukulele, hums during the choruses features and handclaps in the background. The 32-year-old indie-pop singer/songwriter released her fifth album “Human Again” on Jan. 24, but the majority of the 15 songs on the album are not her signature smooth sound.
When listening to Michaelson’s new album, the first thing that hit me is how her style has changed to a more pop-appealing sound. Gone are the ukulele chords and piano ballads and handclaps. In their place are string quartets, countless overlapping beats and somewhat cliche lyrics.
There are very few songs on her new album that resemble her old sweet and sentimental songs. Instead, songs like “Do It Now” and “Black and Blue” produce the feeling that they’ve been manipulated by producers. So basically, they sound like they belong on 95.7 or 93.3, rather than 90.9. This is a bad thing. It’s a demotion. It’s hard to picture Michaelson with her thick-rimmed glasses and jeans singing “Black and Blue” — the lyrics are good, but her voice can’t even be distinguished as her own because she sounds like she’s singing through a megaphone. The beats are quick and sometimes sloppy, producing a sound that is artificial.
This doesn’t mean that she can no longer be taken seriously as an indie artist — just differently. Admittedly, a few of her new songs actually sound good. They’re catchy and appealing, but most of the instrumentation is fake and studio-made, making her sound like she’s lost her natural acoustic sound. I could easily hear auto-tune in some of her songs, which she didn’t use in any of her past albums.
Her past four albums are compilations of songs about love and hope and relationships and sometimes even death. They project strong messages to the public about acceptance and living life to the fullest. Up until “Human Again”, Michaelson’s music was generally happy and she didn’t sound concerned about topping the charts or appearing on the top ten hits on iTunes.
“Human Again” is not a happy feeling album. It’s sad with songs like “Ghost” and intensely eager with “Fire.” “Fire” starts out strong with rapid strings and a jumpy alternation of piano notes — but then it hits the chorus. The orchestra fades, the piano halts and the acoustics are gone before a loud beat competes with Michaelson for the upper hand. “Ghost” is a bit more like Michaelson’s previous music. It’s sad, but it sounds more like her with the piano chords throughout the song and no drastic switches from verse to chorus and back to verse.
Amidst the songs about heartbreak and suffering through relationships, there are some light tracks. Songs like “How We Love”, “Always You” and “Keep Warm” are sweet little melodies that contrast with the majority of the album. But three good songs out of 15? It was a letdown.
In “How We Love”, Michaelson’s voice is alone with a guitar. This is her sound. Her voice is raw, beautiful and the guitar tweaks when changing chords. It’s a natural sound that is rarely heard on this album. “Always You” is also one of the rare Michaelson classics on “Human Again.” Michaelson sings a run of high notes while a piano accompanies her.
The one thing Michaelson’s fans might miss the most is the ukulele. Michaelson has relied heavily on this instrument in all of her past albums. In “You and I” she strums the entire time without any other instrument. The ukulele also helps make the song “Everybody” such a happy and well-known song today. The only song on “Human Again” that the ukulele can actually be heard on is “This is War”.
Michaelson has always been a talented artist, and it’s only in the songs that use auto-tune that she loses the natural acoustic sound that made her so appealing. Her experimentation with auto-tune dashes what could have been another great album. In future albums, she will hopefully abandon auto-tune and return to the ingenuity that has earned her a spot in the music industry.