On Glee, Lea Michele’s Rachel Berry is an overly determined perfectionist with incredible pipes—but she shows enough self-doubt and dorkiness to humanize her robotic willpower. Louder, Michele’s debut solo album under her own name, does feature her distinctive talent as a vocalist. But the record is caught in an unfortunate stylistic limbo between fun-loving, youthful pop and the maturity of adult contemporary artists.
Australian singer Sia Furler, who has written for Katy Perry, Kylie Minogue, and Britney Spears—though her most applicable collaborator to Michele’s work would be Céline Dion—contributed to Louder’s first two singles, “Cannonball” and “Battlefield.” The latter is the strongest feature for Michele’s vocal talent since it’s the simplest track, a bare-bones demo version featuring sparse piano backing and a soaring live vocal. But even then, the song plods through a tired metaphor between love and war.
Michele and Furler also co-wrote the two songs on Louder dedicated to Michele’s late boyfriend and Glee co-star, Cory Monteith. “You’re Mine” is tinged with the kind of innocent romance usually found in Taylor Swift songs, but Michele imbues it—and several other downtempo tracks that could have been bouncier trifles—with such seriousness that it renders an attempt at genuine emotion oppressively flat. And the lyrics to album closer “If You Say So” are positively drenched in grief over Monteith, recounting a moment one week after the actor’s death in minute and yet frustratingly general fashion. The title track and “Empty Handed” (co-written by Christina Perri) offer some spikes in energy, but for most of its running time, Louder is monotonously slow to maintain focus on Michele’s vocals.
The Glee cast is the most-listed artist in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, a testament to the popularity of an above-average cover. Sadly, a compilation of tracks randomly culled from the best Rachel Berry solos recorded for the show would yield a stronger album than this one made up of originals.