While many will roll their eyes with dread at the idea of yet another soap star-turned-singer, I took the plunge and was prepared to enjoy Stephanie McIntosh's debut album. Having initially risen to quasi-fame playing Sky Mangel on Neighbours, there is the added pressure for her to prove herself as being a legitimate musician as opposed to just an actress. Being immediately drawn to her pop-rock sound, she sounds similar to Kelly Clarkson in that she blends catchy pop-hooks with feisty lyrics and biting guitars. Vocally, she's more in the league of someone like Hilary Duff - not an excellent singer but a pretty voice nevertheless.
The album kicks off with the only track to have Steph's name under the writing credits. The pounding drums and raucous guitar licks pack the song with attitude, accompanying a huge sing-along chorus. The lyrics are basic, and not particularly deep or eloquently put, but are perfectly acceptable for a pop song. The song tells of the friction in a relationship and the fallout of an argument: "I can't keep fighting this battle with you/I can't hear words when you scream like you do/If I cried would you hold me just like we rehearsed/So do I, so do I say sorry first?". It is a fantastic track though, and was an instant favourite of mine.
Then we move onto the first single - 'Mistake'. It has been described as a high-octane collision of pop and rock, it literally jumps out of your speakers with angst, attitude and a chorus that'll knock your head off the first time you hear it. Penned by Max Martin - the song writing god responsible for hits by Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, P!nk and Katy Perry to name but a few. With a resumé like that it's unsurprising that this song is so good. Admittedly, it has a few similarities to 'Since U Been Gone', but I think it's different enough to stand on its own two feet. I just love the chorus: "I don't want to make another mistake like you/I don't want to hate but love doesn't get me through". Everything about this song is perfect. Easily the best track on the album, and really should have been a UK hit!
The title-track, 'Tightrope', shows a little experimentation. There is an electro sound to the production, and a lot of ominous sounding synthesisers which add a sense of drama and tension in the verses. "I keep dreaming that I'm falling, there's no safety net/You look up with arms wide open... then you smile and walk away," Steph sings, sounding emotive and scared, in a song which is about the fear of taking a risk on love. The chorus returns to the tried and tested formula of crashing drums and guitars, but like the two tracks preceding it, it has an irresistibly catchy hook that you'll remember instantly. "Oh, Oh... I'm walking a tightrope between who I love and what I know/Oh, Oh... I'm watching the sharks lick their lips as they circle far below." The imagery in the song is great and it really stands out for me as the electronic production helps it be a little bit unique compared to the rest of the CD, which has it's biggest flaw in it's lack of sonic variation.
The first ballad of the album is the excellently titled - 'You Should Have Lied'. The lyrics begin to dig a little deeper than we've heard before from her, and again, we are struck by restrained verses and a crashing chorus. The middle eight of the song is fantastic, as Steph's confrontation of a cheating lover reaches it's climax with her first big vocal moment of the album: "I don't get it/Where was your conscience when/You were/With her/Couldn't you hear it scream out?" I love the lyrics of this song, they really are quite clever and put an interesting spin on your typical song about betrayal - the idea that someone telling the truth is worse than them concealing it.
'Out in the Rain' is the first moment at which the quality begins to dip. Up until track five, as far as pop songs go, the album is pretty flawless. This song has a good concept - the idea of being heartbroken and the weather changing, reflecting your mood, but as the swirling strings and guitars of the verses build up... the chorus just doesn't quite deliver. "I stand out in the rain here for hours/Looking like I feel inside/I can't give anymore than my heart/You shattered it a million times/At least you can see that I'm crying/At least you can see that I'm dying/Out in the rain." It all just feels a little too schmaltzy and clichéd for me, which is a shame, as the song had potential.
The quick strings spice up the arrangement in 'You Don't Love Me', a song about confronting a lover who has been concealing their doubts over a relationship. There is a real sense of drama and intensity in the track, with Steph sounding surprisingly emotive as she delivers the chorus: "You don't love me/you can't say it, after all this time," she almost screams. The chorus is addictive though and oh-so easy to sing along too. Although I suppose it suffers the same fate as 'Out in the Rain', in that it could have been an excellent song as opposed to a good one, if the lyrics didn't appear a little lazy at times.
An acoustic guitar starts off 'A Change is Coming', an uplifting number that reminds me of Jordin Sparks' 'One Step at a Time', in that it has that inspiring and hopeful tone. 'God Only Knows' adds some much needed bite, with it's feisty guitar licks and 'Behind These Hazel Eyes'-esque chorus, which concludes with that all-too painful question: "When will I ever learn to let go?/God only knows, God only knows."
'Overcome' is a piano and drum based track, which I just love the production on. The lyrics are not too serious but they talk about the moment where you catch a glimpse of someone who you can instantly tell you could be good together, but the moment passes you by. The lyrics are a lot less contrived than some of the previous tracks. Steph's voice works really well with the melody, and it's a great mood-enhancing track because of the way it's produced.
Similarly, 'Sink Like a Stone' is impeccably produced, the mixing is perfect - combining crisp guitars and nautical beats. Steph's voice fits in fantastically, in this light, breezy number that always puts me in a good mood. With lyrics that talk about falling in love, it's not too taxing or inaccessible - like most of the tracks on the album. If you're looking for deep lyrics, then you might have to look elsewhere. But similarly, you can't go as far to say that the song writing or lyrical content is frivolous or shallow.
The penultimate song, 'The Night of My Life' is a gorgeous ballad as far as I'm concerned. It took me a couple of listens to get into, but it's easily one of my favourites off the album. It's comparatively stripped back to the rest of the record and shows off Steph's voice. As I've mentioned, she hasn't got the pipes of Kelly Clarkson or P!nk, the premiere vocalists in her genre, but she has a pretty voice that with the right material, can really shine. Here's a great example of that. With each verse and chorus, the song grows in power and momentum, culminating in one final round of: "If it's goodbye now... forever/And I never get to see you again/If it's the last kiss before the world should end.../ I want to thank you for the night of my life".
The album closes on a cinematic moment. 'Catching My Breath' tells the story of the first time someone tells you they love you, and the swirling beats and guitars create a real sense of drama that seems to match the narrative of the words. "Please forgive me I was just catching my breath/Blown away by every part of life making sense" she sings in the feather light, whispy chorus, that is pulled off really well. It's a good way to close the album, in that it's sound really encompasses all that we've heard before. Although, after twelve tracks you begin to feel that the formula has been tried and tested a few too many times and you crave perhaps a little more experimentation and feel a little regretful that Steph wasn't brave enough to add a few different sounds into the mix.
Overall, this is a fantastic album if you love the genre. The mix of great melodies and memorable choruses show this as pop-rock at its best. For sure, if you enjoyed Kelly Clarkson's 'Breakaway' or P!nk's 'I'm Not Dead', you'll want to add this to your collection. It's difficult to criticise an artist's first release on the ground of lyrics or originality, as they often haven't had the opportunity to hone their talent or been given much freedom to flex their creative muscles. Admittedly, the album appears a little too safe at times with the production (this I attribute to the majority of the tracks being written by the same person - Tom Nichols), which on one hand gives the album a sense of consistency but on the other, reduces variation. While I don't cite this as one of my favourite albums that I own, I can honestly say with my hand on my heart, there isn't a bad song on it - a rare thing to find in this day and age, let alone on a debut CD. At £5.17 on Play.com, or for just over £10 on Amazon, this little-known product is easy to find online, and without a doubt, is something I'd fully recommend.
Released yesterday (20/08/07), Tightrope is Stephanie McIntoshs debut album release and although topping the Australian charts at number 4 achieving Gold status in weeks and reaching number 11 on the UK Pre-order charts, is Tightrope ready to take on the UK charts by storm or simply flopping dismally.
**WHO IS STEPHANIE MCINTOSH? **
Born in July 1985, Miss McIntosh is best known for her character portrayal Sky Mangel in hit Aussie soap Neighbours, which she played for four years. Following in the footsteps of other Neighbours stars such as Kylie Minogue and Holly Valance and in Brother Jason Donovan, McIntosh decided to take on the world with music early in 2006.
This is her debut album signed by Universal Productions based in Australia; McIntosh obviously has her goals set high as she has a 5 Album contract with Universal, something she was quick to negotiate. However, is Tightrope original enough to sell or is it just another pop fuelled attempt by a converted soap star?
Privileged as we are the UK release of Tightrope gets its own unique cover which to be honest isnt very original. It is not something that catches your attention compared to the neon lit background of the Aussie cover. A simple picture of Stephanie filled a bright light mixed with the girlie pink writing really sets the picture of an album that is somewhat under achieved and under developed.
Disappointing to say the least but the album cover doesnt make the music.
1. So Do I Say Sorry First
4. You Should Have Lied
5. Wishin and Hopin
6. Out In The Rain
7. You Dont Love Me
8. A Change Is Coming
9. God Only Knows
11. Sink Like A Stone
12. The Night Of My Life
13. Id Be You
Originally a 12 track album, Id Be You is a hidden track not actually appearing on the list, Tightrope is a reasonable debut release in terms of track offerings, but what genre does it offer and is there any diversity in McIntoshs work? A Lack of CD-Rom features may disappoint Stephanie fans, but to be honest she is pretty much unheard of over here so the lack of features is not surprising.
#So Do I Say Sorry First#
(written by McIntosh, Tom Nichols, Klaus Derendorf)
Released as the Third single in Australia it has also been confirmed as the second single over here in the UK. So Do I Say Sorry First is the only track on her album that McIntosh has co-written, which only acts a as a disadvantage for her. Its lack of sales means peaking at Number 34 in the Aussie Charts and yet to get in the top 200 in the UK.
Musically it quite an addictive tune, mixing deep vocals with an electric guitar driven instrumental and with a mixture a well placed drums you cant help stopping and taking notice of it, especially if you are a pop rock fan.
Lyrically, Stephanie describes herself as flawed and imperfect but doesnt want to carry on arguing with her lover contemplating whether or not to Say Sorry First or wait for him to do it. One of the strongest songs on the album, SDISSF is an addictive pop song that quite surprisingly underachieved in the charts.
This passionate contradiction Of bitter sweet is where I dwell
To watch the music video for So Do I Say Sorry First go to:
(written by Rami, Arnthor Birgisson, Nichols)
The debut single both in Australia and over here in the UK, Mistake is yet another addictive pop song, polished perfectly for a teen audience. Whilst reaching number 3 in the Aussie Charts, Mistake again failed to catch any attention over here merely getting inside the top 50 peaking a number 47.
Again, musically, Mistake is driven by electric guitars and drums which really is fast paced which mixes really well with McIntoshs perfected voice which at times echoes in a club remix style. Clearly the strongest track on the album, Mistake isnt original but many punk pop fans will love it and relish the a new face into the market.
Lyrically, Mistake allows McIntosh to admit that she is feeling hurt and down and cant believe that she made the mistake of choosing the person she did as a lover.
Is it too much to ask, That real love could find me? I won't get stung?
To watch the music video for Mistake go to:
(written by Nichols, Greg Kurstin)
The second single in Australia, Tightrope reached a decent 16 in the Aussie charts, but to be honest its not perfect and not as addictive as So Do I Say Sorry First. Musically it offers a more club dance beat with base used quite freely to create a unique sound, but fails. The sound just isnt quite right and for the title of the album, it really is a let down.
Lyrically it describes how she at two ends and confused about what she loves and what she knows. Its a common theme, but silly lyrics such as I'm watching the sharks lick their lips
As they circle far below is somewhat unjustified.
To watch the music video for Tightrope go to:
#You Should Have Lied#
(written by Nichols, Savan Kotecha, Carl Falk)
Probably to be released a final single; You Should Have Lied is McIntoshs first ballad on the album and is perhaps arguable one of the strongest tracks. It piano base allows a more soft and crisp approach for McIntoshs voice and it goes well extremely well. A steady tempo continues throughout the song and its quite refreshing as you listen.
Lyrically it talks how she was perhaps better off not knowing instead of her lover feeling guilty and coming clean. It flows quite nicely and is quite addictive once listened to over and over.
So you tried to be honest But honesty blew it this time, You should have lied
#Wishin and Hopin#
(written by Burt Bacharach, Hal David)
A Cover of Dusty Springfields original, Wishin and Hopin gets a more upbeat cover this time around, with a heavy drum based song mixed with both acoustic and electric guitars and a hint of keyboard. This is a strong track on the album probably due to its popularity, but the newer more punked up version that McIntosh offers is somewhat uplifting.
Lyrically it describes that the way to a mans heart is:
All you gotta do is hold him and kiss him and love him And show him that you care
#Out In The Rain#
(written by Nichols, Pete Woodroffe, Charlie Grant)
Yet another upbeat pop song that reminds us of Hilary Duff. The song isnt bad just your average album track yet is seems quite nostalgic now and doesnt offer anything new. The problem with the song is that if you take away her voice the music sounds too familiar just like many of her later track songs. The electric guitars mix well again with drum beats, but again its just too familiar.
Lyrically it describes how she stands out in the rain to show her feelings no matter how many times her heart has been broken. Lyrically its just as average as its something we have heard so many times so many different artists.
I'm drowning in metaphors, angry coz stupid me's a fool again
#You Dont Love Me#
(written by Nichols, Quiz & Larrossi)
Unsurprisingly You Dont Love Me is yet another pop song fuelled by guitars following the same beat and tempo. It sounds too samey and actually sounds like a Paris Hilton Track. Its at this point when you start to realise that when you listen to Stephanie McIntosh too much (over 6 tracks) her voice sounds too immature and not very developed, much like a perfected studio robot.
Lyrically it shows how she has awoken one day to realise that her lover has a different look in his eyes and she realises that it is that he doesnt love her anymore.
Yesterday everything Seemed so ok, How can it be that today You don't love me?
#A Change is Coming#
(written by Nichols, Guy Roche)
Musically the song starts off with a gentle acoustic sound but then erupts in the chorus to usual electric sound with the fast tempo. Its McIntoshs voice again that causes the problems with this song. Her voice sounds too irregular at the beginning and granted the song gets better as it goes along, its really is just too average.
Lyrically, A Change is Coming allows McIntosh to change her life and begin to make a new start in life.
I feel so free at last tonight, I start to see a future bright
#God Only Knows#
(written by Nichols, Falk)
Musically God Only Knows is fantastic swapping the upbeat Guitars of previous for a more Punk edge commonly seen in racks by Sum 41. The tempo changes throughout the song and really mixes it up for the listener. It really is stimulating to hear after the previous average slush.
It is quite a strong track, with a catchy chorus and lyrically it is sound apart from the title. It describes how she falls in too deep with love and ends up making mistakes and wonders when it will all change.
I fall in, I freak out Too deep I cannot climb out
(written by Nichols, Peter Zizzo)
Musically, Overcome is a little different mix with a softer tempo of guitars mixing in strings of violins every now and again. Its a decent tune the only problem with Overcome is that her voice doesnt match the song enough and at times it hard to know what she says as the music erupts over her.
Lyrically, it describes how she was hooked at first sight by someone and now cannot let them go.
The riptide was strong And though I fought it for a second or two You stole me with a glance and it was done I was overcome by you
#Sink Like a Stone#
(written by Klaus Derendorf, Nichols, Jeeve)
Musically the tempo remains on cue unsurprisingly, but the guitar is much more rockier with a harder sound. Its not great mind you especially with her slow paced singing and lame lyrics. Lyrically it talks how she has been sucked in by someone and now cannot leave them alone and all she thinks about it them.
The problem what we find now is that many of the songs are just too unbelievable. She sings the songs is a very similar way so as a listener we just dont believe what she is saying and the fact she has only written one of the songs credits this further. Naturally she is good a entertaining, but as a true artist hmmm.
Suddenly I hear you breathing And now I am sinking like a stone
#The Night of My Life#
(written by Desmond Child, Nichols)
The Night of My Life is a nice slow paced gentle song with an acoustic guitar at its base with violins carefully playing in the background. Musically its a very smooth song and flows on very nicely and even her voice softens to match the silkiness of the song, if a little high pitched.
Lyrically it describes how she wishes to thank everyone who has a made a difference in her life and to be honest its quite a mature song with a adult set of lyrics especially compared to the other songs.
Before the world should end I wanna thank you for the night of my life
#Id Be You#
(written by Nichols, Thom Pierce)
As the hidden track Id Be You is ok both musically and vocally but it takes on a different style to the other songs and changes genre. Its quite a reminiscent song with a soft beat in the style of other artists. Its hard to tell why its a hidden track as its not breath taking as surprises go, but I suppose McIntosh fans will crave the fact that it is hidden.
If I Could have one little thing, Id be You.
Overall, Tightrope by Stephanie McIntosh is at best an average pop album that at times feels a little dated or something we have simply heard before. Her polished vocals makes you wonder whether or not she can actually sing and her lack of writing ability questions her label as a true artist! But on the other hand, there are some strong tracks that are quite addictive for the majority of punk pop fans and anyone who is a fan of Hilary Duff will probably love this.
Truly an album for teenagers, Tightrope is a naive attempt for a debut album by a celebrity who longs to follow in the footsteps of other soap stars, which on the whole fairs well enough if you enjoy the samey feel to every song. The problem is there simply isnt enough diversity on the album and Tom Nichols who produced the album and co-wrote the songs simply overuses his experience as a producer for the likes of Kylie Minogue and S-Club 7. Lets just hope for Stephanies sake her next four albums are different with a breath of fresh air feel and lets also hope she writes more than one song.
Tightrope is better than:
I Am Me (Ashlee Simpson)
Speak (Lindsay Lohan)
Tightrope is Worse than:
Most Wanted (Hilary Duff)
Autobiography (Ashlee Simpson)
If You Like This You May Like:
Metamorphosis by Hilary Duff
Jo Jo by Jo Jo
(as from 21/08/2007)
Amazon.co.uk : £8.99
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 So Do I Say Sorry First?
4 You Should Have Lied
5 Out In The Rain
6 You Don't Love Me
7 A Change Is Coming
8 God Only Knows
10 Sink Like A Stone
11 The Night Of My Life
12 Catching My Breath/I'd Be You