Thanks to a certain Disney property that will go unnamed here, Idina Menzel has become a household name (though apparently not in the Travolta household). After years spent vacillating between relative pop obscurity and high-profile Broadway acclaim, she’s now a bona fide, multi-threat star which, for her, is a good thing as it ensures a built-in audience for nearly anything and everything she does from here on out.

For her first post-thaw pop album, Menzel largely sticks to the previously successful formula of overwrought self-empowerment anthems. That particular earworm familiar to nearly anyone who has been within close proximity to a child within the last few years serves as the template for nearly everything here, albeit recast within a toothless contemporary pop framework. But who can blame her, really? It’s a formula that has proven obscenely successful, providing kids with an ambiguous, vaguely empowering anthem that should prove a staple of childhood in the 2010s. In 15-20 years, we’ll see those same kids writing think pieces on the merits of the lessons taught by the-song-that-shan’t-be-named and whether or not they proved as freeing and philosophically resonant as they did to their pre-adolescent minds.

So really, Menzel has absolutely nothing to lose on idina. It’s something she seems to know; content to stick with what works, she simply applies a glossy sheen and her big Broadway/pop vocals to inane platitudes such as, “Just live and learn/you will get burned/but you’ll get your turn/if you keep fighting” from “Like Lightning” or “It’s okay, I’ve seen it all/and maybe I was always small/but I could fly before I crawled” from opening track “Small World.” And these are but the first two tracks. From there it’s simply variations on a theme. And hell, if it works and makes kids feel better about themselves and their chances in this increasingly fucked up world, who am I to complain?

In fact, I feel like a dick even trying to take on either Menzel as an artist or the feather-lite philosophical musings and general feel-goodery on display here. Fortunately, I am a dick and I’ve no problem tearing into this mindless dreck. Ready? To quote Menzel herself, “There’s no way I’m holding back anymore” (“Queen of Swords”). First off, she sounds far too much like an adenoidal Alanis Morissette, singing through a whistling hold in the middle of her face, the result of an anachronistic belief in the practice of trepanning freeing the evil spirits from the body.

This reaches its most disturbing point with a note hit near the end of “Queen of Swords” that would make Mariah Carey’s head explode. Bit of advice: just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. It’s so off-puttingly strident and jarring that it’s as though a bit of a Prurient record got momentarily spliced into the album much in the same manner as those Disney animators who found it hilarious to hide bits of porn footage in The Rescuers.

Alas, idina. is little more than anthemic sloganeering at its most gratingly pandering – hell, I’d take Alanis’ “Eastern mysticism” bullshit over this any day. “Here’s to the lonely/to the broken-hearted/I want you to know I know/I see your face” she assures us on the stalker-ish “I See You.” These are of course easily accessible nuggets that could serve as hashtags or texted words of encouragement amongst disaffected classmates. “Black and white/we color in/we see the world the way we want to see it/you either take it or you leave it.”

So ineffectual and simplified are her lyrical clichés that the album begins to feel like an audio collage of inspirational poster quotes: “Be the light that you are” (“Everybody Knows”); “I could fly before I crawled” (“Small World”); “I’ll sing ‘til you hear my song” (“Queen of Swords”). And on and on.
But it doesn’t end there. Aside from from these inspirational-thought-a-day musings, there are plenty of mind-numbingly inanities like, “Don’t let the last time I saw you be the last time” – clever! (“Last Time”); “I got the picket fence/I got the perfect shiny stone/it don’t make any sense/I’m here but nobody’s home” (“I Do”) – you know what that means, right? Might want to get back to that book of clichés and double check you really wanted to use that one here.

Oh, and “Cake”: “One man’s drama is another man’s dream/one man’s torture is another man’s treat/one man’s trophy is another’s mistake/one man’s poison is another man’s cake,” you can’t just say a bunch of opposites and expect them to have profound resonance. These here? They don’t make any fucking sense (not to mention the faux-reggae break in the middle of your hard-edged funk pop silliness).

“Show Me” sounds like the standout hit from any number of post-Rent Broadway musicals. And having been in the original cast – not to mention the film adaptation – Menzel is well-versed on this type of faux-pop bombast. Surging melodies, full-throated belting and triumphant chord progressions; these three elements are pretty much all you need to create the modernist equivalent of, say, “Memory” (from Cats) or “Somewhere” (from West Side Story). See also the “sensitive show tune balladry” on “Perfect Story.” Or better yet, don’t. Unless you’re a frustrated soccer mom or aspiring theatre kid, might I suggest you just, you know, let it go?

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