A pop album without the gossamer.
Ingrid Michaelson has had a tough couple of years. Since the release of 2014’s Lights Out she’s seen her marriage end and has mourned her mother’s death. While either one of those unfortunate circumstances could inform a musician’s work, both have allowed Michaelson to craft her strongest and most powerful album to date. It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense is a rich, layered, multifaceted record that is just long enough to be considered an LP, but just short enough to keep on repeat for days at a time. With its blend of guitars, keys, string arrangements and even newly minted electronic programming, it has a little bit of everything Michaelson has done before—and a few things that she’s never done before.
This album has songs that empower, songs that will break your heart, songs that question personal strength and songs that will make you smile so hard that people around you will wonder why you’re so damn happy. While it may seem like a thematic mishmash, remember, it doesn’t have to make sense. That title is the guiding principal on Michaelson’s seventh album. No, there’s no central theme. No, you’ve never heard electronic drum loops on a Michaelson album. No, life’s curveballs don’t make sense at all. No, none of that matters. Frankly, it makes perfect sense.
Opening track “Light Me Up” is a piano-driven slow-build fit for an introduction to something new. Somber, haunting, yet sweetly sincere, it begins with classic Michaelson—a voice and some keys—before opening itself up into a massive chorus with the kind of soaring hook few are capable of. Before you know it, the pounding bass beats of a drum machine come in and make it all seem bigger and more dramatic. Follow-up “Whole Lot of Heart” incorporates many of the same ideas, but executes them at a more even pace with a steadier flow and less buildup. Amazingly enough, with “Light Me Up” acting as a primer, those elements already seem so familiar that it feels like Michaelson has perfected this new twist on her own style, just with the album’s first two songs.
The short ballad “I Remember Her” is a beautiful tribute to Michaelson’s late mother, and shows tremendous restraint, allowing her voice to shine with just piano backing her up. It avoids overproduced grandiosity and keeps things simple and sincere. Another ballad, “Drink You Gone,” doesn’t open up the tear ducts the same way, but it is kind of grief sequel that pairs well with its predecessor.
Lead single “Hell No” is an empowering pop tune with a thumping bass beat and a hook that will give women and men alike reason to stay strong and trust themselves. In true Michaelson fashion, this and “Celebrate,” later in the album, could conceivably wind up on the soundtrack to an ultra-popular television show. Unlike most singles, this lives up to its hype and was a nice taste of things to come during the months leading up to the album’s release.
It Doesn’t Have to Make Sense ends as it begins. “Old Days” is a big, bold and powerful closer that makes excellent use of the album’s strengths, including some of the most beautiful string arrangements you’ll year on a pop record this year. Ingrid Michaelson may have been put through the proverbial wringer recently. But if it’s any consolation to her, she’s created something truly special, a pop album without the gossamer, stuffed with radio-ready hooks full of blood and guts. It will make you cry, smile and feel grateful for everything you have while offering the strength it takes to move on from life’s trials and tribulations.