Justine Electra Soft Rock

[City Slang; 2007]

Styles: singer/songwriter, folktronic, indie
Others: Beth Orton, Aimee Mann, Solex

Typically, I don't find myself criticizing artists for being too diverse, but in the case of Justine Electra, I am going to do just that. For a debut album, there's simply too much restless ambition on Soft Rock. Rather than creating a coherent musical identity for Ms. Electra, it comes off as little more than a series of experimental steps in that direction.

Despite this overarching problem, there are a number of very successful tracks here. "Killalady" is the first obvious one, with a great mix of sweet and sour lyrics perfectly suited for Electra's lovely voice (equal parts Aimee Mann and Chan Marshall) and a sinister bassline. What starts as a tentative folk build-up turns into something unpredictable and quite engaging. "Blues & Reds" is an almost trip-hop version of twangy country blues that incorporates a dubbed-out harmonica riff to great effect. As a closer, "Defiant & Proud" revels in its stripped-down simplicity, and consequently shows off just how gifted a performer Electra is.

However, as is apparent from these descriptions, there really isn't a continuous thread that carries through, aside from her voice, which, being a supple instrument, can take on myriad timbres itself. If the rampant eclecticism were the only problem, I would probably get hooked on Soft Rock pretty hard, but even in the spirit of experimentation there are some considerable misfires. "My Best Friend" seems constantly about to end, even in its opening moments. "Calimba Song" comes off like a cutesy attempt to write a song on a foreign instrument, and never transcends that origin. "President" acts as a microcosm of the entire album with its frustrating sonic fidgeting, though some of the lyrics -- particularly the pseudomedical pronouncement of "Sorry son, your balls are dead" -- are undeniably striking.

It's not that I would be any happier with a monotonous collection of carbon copies, but there's so much unrealized potential here that I can't help but feel discontented with the overall experience. Electra obviously has the resources to do something amazing, and with a little more focused effort, I fully expect she'll be channeling her abilities into something great very soon.

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