Picks and Pans Review: Vanessa Carlton

UPDATED 11/15/2004 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 11/15/2004 at 01:00 AM EST

POP

Harmonium

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Vanessa Carlton should have taken a lesson from J.Lo: Creative collaborations with your significant other can produce Gigli-like results. While Carlton's work with boyfriend Stephan Jenkins, the Third Eye Blind frontman who produced this disc and cowrote four songs, isn't as bad as that Bennifer bomb, it fails to live up to the expectations set by her 2002 debut, Be Not Nobody. That CD went platinum and won the singer-songwriter-pianist three Grammy nominations thanks to the hit "A Thousand Miles," the kind of great song that sometimes comes around only once in a career. Indeed, there is nothing on Harmonium (an instrument that is a cross between a flute and a piano) that can touch "A Thousand Miles." Carlton, 24, comes closest with the album's first single, "White Houses," which paints a vivid picture of a girl losing her virginity, with classically tinged piano, lush orchestration and a rush of stream-of-consciousness lyrics: "My first time, hard to explain/Rush of blood, and a little bit of pain/On a cloudy day, it's more common than you'd think/He's my first mistake." Too often, though, Carlton and Jenkins don't make beautiful music together. Jenkins allows too many arty indulgences, and he and Carlton don't fully flesh out the ideas of some of these songs. Tracks such as "C'est La Vie" and "Papa," both less than three minutes long, feel unfinished. And the disc, despite some evocative soundscapes and lyrics, lacks memorable melodies. Hopefully, next time Carlton will work with a producer with whom she has better harmony.

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