They say a well-rounded education is the key to success, and if that truly is the case, the my schooling is woefully incomplete when it comes to the subject of pop. That’s why we bring you “Popology,” the guide to modern radio-friendly stars as seen through the eyes of a guy who grew up on punk and metal. In case you missed previous installments, catch up with Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Eminem and others here
This week, Lindsay Lohan speaks.
Though only a handful of years have elapsed since the last time she made a contribution to the music world (her last full-length album was 2005′s A Little More Personal (Raw), but she put out a well-received single called “Bossy” in 2008), it’s easy to forget that Lindsay Lohan had a real place in pop music for a brief moment.
When Lohan released her full-length debut Speak in 2004, it was part of what should probably considered one of the best single years for any crossover star in history. She had three hit films in a row (“Freaky Friday,” “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen” and “Mean Girls”), hosted the 2004 MTV Movie Awards and became a fan-favorite host on “Saturday Night Live.” Speak was the culmination of all that success, and Lohan put forth an extremely well-made collection of songs written by the likes of Kara DioGuardi, John Shanks, Kelly Clarkson and Cory Rooney. It moved over 250,000 copies in its first week of release on its way to selling two million worldwide, and the single “Rumors” became a radio hit and a “TRL” staple for most of the fall of ’04. The album may have even been more successful had Lohan been able to properly promote it, but her promotional and shooting schedules for a number of films (including “Herbie: Fully Loaded” and “Just My Luck”) got in the way.
Still, Speak is a surprisingly accomplished album. Though Lohan doesn’t have a very refined voice, she makes up for it with confidence and commitment. Her instrument has a certain rasp to it that gives each of the 11 tracks on Speak a tough exterior, and it allows her to navigate the melodies well.
The album opens with “First,” which kicks off with an aggressive guitar riff that has a slight hint of Josh Homme’s druggy skronk and features Lohan singing the suggestive chorus, “I want to come first.” The melody in the chorus is a big, hands-in-the-air sort of run, and it works extremely well as an album-starter. She sticks with rock into the second song “Nobody Til You,” which brings in a more electronic backbeat that recalls the more muscular Savage Garden material (that’s a compliment, by the way). It’s another big chorus surrounded by a cascade of cybernetic guitar sounds and punchy keyboards. Lohan seems to really own the material here — though it’s obviously produced, her voice has an unmistakable joy running underneath it when she shouts “Til you/ There was nothing but lonely nights/ There was nothing but sad goodbyes for me to fall through.”
“Symptoms of You” exists in a particular genre that may not really exist anymore. It starts as a piano ballad, then morphs into a big rock piece and does a bit of rhythmic shaking just to keep you on your toes. It’s the sort of thing that made Vanessa Carlton gigantic and that nobody really does nowadays. “Symptoms of You” perhaps hits on the biggest issue surrounding Speak in its first third: It is a well-made, finely-crafted album that is still quite derivative. There’s no crime in not committing to a genre, but each song feels specifically crafted to mimic a certain artist or satisfy a particular branch of the radio audience.
As though on cue, Lohan shifts into club mode for the title track, which has a giant wall of keyboards and a thumping disco beat underneath it. It works pretty well as a club track and has another excellent shout-along chorus, and if I’m not mistaken, that’s the bass line to Deee-Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart” buried underneath all that electronic window dressing. The hits continue with “Over,” a hypnotic rock ballad full of digi-coustic guitars and a lyric sheet about the difficulties of redemption. In fact, “Over” contains one of the album’s most poetic lines: “My tears are turning into time I’ve wasted trying to find a reason for goodbye.” “Over” is one of the five tracks that credits Lohan as a songwriter, and it’s easy to believe that she had that line scrawled on a notebook somewhere.
Lohan slows it down a bit for “Something I Never Had,” which is a decent if not entirely memorable power ballad. She gets back to snarling on “Anything But Me,” where she sings “It’s so hard to live a dream/ When the everything that they want you to be/ Is anything but me.” Considering her profound fall from grace kicked into high gear in 2005, Lohan seemed to already be contemplating the pressures of fame and her intense cross-promotional work schedule. There aren’t too many clues into her psyche on Speak, but “Anything But Me” seems like it would be the most accurate look at her interior life.
Of course, not everything on Speak works. “Disconnected” and “To Know Your Name” are a by-the-numbers shout-along and a seemingly-incomplete electro tune, respectively. But the albums ends on a strong note with a great one-two punch of “Very Last Moment in Time” and “Rumors.” The former is another chugging pop-rock tune written by DioGuardi and also represents one of Lohan’s most dynamic vocal performances. “Rumors” was the big hit from the album and certainly sounds that way, as it’s all punchy club drums, a bit of rap-singing and lyrics that directly lash out at the paparazzi (who were already hounding her). Plus, the chorus is super-catchy. Honestly, it’s just as good — if not better than — anything on Ke$ha’s album.
Which is sort of tragic, in a way. Lohan will be spending a little time behind bars for violating the terms of her probation (which included attending alcohol abuse education classes), which only sends her further down the spiral and makes her more toxic. It’s quite possible that Lohan will never record any more music, which would be a shame, as Speak proves that what she lacks in vocal talent she makes up for with conviction and attitude. Come back to the music world, Lindsay. All is forgiven.