Which came first: the desire to be an actor or aspirations of pop stardom? Can one exist without the other? Given the overabundance of actors and actresses trying their hand at a recording career, the two seem interminably intertwined. And with scant few exceptions, these end up as little more than vanity projects that come about solely because of the name attached and whatever established star power or cultural currency it carries. Essentially, actors and actresses make albums simply because they can. Should they? Well, that’s certainly a matter well open to and for debate.

While some musicians have proven themselves adept at acting – pop stars are essentially playing a character anyway – it rarely goes the other way. There’s no point restating the list of musical atrocities committed by actors over the years – but if you really want to get into it, please feel free to let me know; I’ve always been a fan of Rhino’s early-‘80s Golden Throats series. So when an actor or, in this case, actress comes out with an album, it’s hard to approach it without an overwhelming amount of disdain and preconceived notions as to the quality of the content. Of course, much of this is based squarely on the exceedingly poor historical track record of these “artistic crossovers” and their reputations more than any sort of direct exposure.

Sure, there are a number of actors/actresses who possess decent-to-great voices. But the majority of these performers keep their singing to the medium to which they are best suited. Those who feel the urge to put forth something beyond these generally acceptable detours into the filmic approximation of musical theatre generally end up coming across as foolish at best, embarrassingly nihilistic at worst.

So now that I’ve made my personal caveats with actor/actress “musicians” known, where on the spectrum of mediocre to godawful does Mrs. Tom Hanks’ second album, Rita Wilson by Rita Wilson, fall? The answer, somewhat unsurprisingly given the decidedly middle-of-the-road, innocuous roles she’s played for years on screen (can you even name a movie she’s been in other than Sleepless In Seattle without the help of IMDB?), is that it’s not bad. But before you go heralding this statement as some triumph over adversity, allow me to elaborate. There are a number of things in life that “aren’t bad.” For instance, I’m not a fan of mushrooms – I simply can’t get past the texture. But I’ll eat them from time to time if there are no other options or they are part of a meal that I find otherwise acceptable.

This essentially amounts to the equivalent of noncommittal ambivalence bordering on complacency. And this is out of, what, laziness? Disinterest? An overwhelming urge not to hurt your host’s feelings by retching and spitting the desiccated remnants of some disgusting fungus into a fine linen napkin? I don’t really know for sure. What were we talking about?

Oh, right, that new Rita Wilson album, Rita Wilson by Rita Wilson, in case you forgot who Rita Wilson was while we were talking about Rita Wilson. Yes, it exists, I’ve listened to it, and I’ve found myself occasionally nodding along, occasionally cringing at the triteness of the lyrics and predictable songwriting. But is that really the basis on which one can formulate an actual opinion on something? Or is it more the aforementioned ambivalence shrugging off the responsibility of attempting to find something constructive or insightful to say about something that sounds like every song played on Lite 96.7 FM?

I don’t know. I mean the track (somewhat ironically called) “Forgiving Me Forgiving You” has a decent hook, and Wilson’s Sheryl Crow-lite voice is pleasant enough. But it’s simply not enough to sustain a song, let along an album full of songs. And when she attempts to get serious with a paean to Joni Mitchell that simply finds her repurposing the much better singer and songwriter’s own words in an attempt to create something approximating something off of Blue, it winds up terrible and sad rather than the terribly sad, for which she seemed to be aiming.

Had Rita Wilson by Rita Wilson been released in, oh let’s say the mid-‘70s when the music industry was all about throwing fuckall to the wall and not caring what stuck, it would’ve probably ended up in your local cutout bin and every resale shop in America (à la Mantovani, Percy Faith, Herb Alpert, et. al.) after spending an unspecified amount of time in the record collections of 90% of the country.

It’s basically the modern-day equivalent of harmless-yet-soulless music (“Every Day”) that is so inoffensive (“Strong Tonight”) that you can’t actively dislike it (“Girls Night In”) without feeling like maybe you’re a terrible human being (“I’m Guilty”) entirely out of touch with the rest of mankind (“Grateful”).

But “Stay Low” in particular is so obvious and clichéd, it plays like the aural equivalent of those inspirational posters hanging from the ceiling of your dentist’s office. You can almost hear the whirr of the cleaning instruments singing along in harmony. Oh well. At least she’s not Chet Haze – though, she is responsible for his existence, so that kinda negates the not being him part. Tom Hanks? All right, fine. I get it. You win. Just don’t make me listen again. Deal?

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