Lea Michele rose to global fame as Rachel Berry in Ryan Murphy’s TV phenomenon Glee. Each episode saw the actress and singer tackle songs from all different musical styles but it was her soaring voice that made fans fall in love with her. Prior to the show she had a lot of experience on Broadway and since the end of Glee, Lea has appeared in two seasons of Ryan Murphy’s Scream Queens. She released her debut album Louder in 2014 to mixed reviews from critics and fans. That album was an uneven mix of pop and soaring ballads with Lea seemingly not being able to find where she fits in the music industry.
Three years on from Louder, Lea has released her second album Places, which she has called a return to her theatrical roots. Lead single Love is Alive certainly lives up to that billing with its powerful vocals and gorgeous instrumentation. You can imagine the track being a centrepiece in a Broadway show and the track is a promising start to the album. As you listen through the album, it’s clear that Lea has ditched the pop leanings of her previous record instead concentrating on the powerful voice that she possesses.
Unfortunately Places is as frustrating a record as Louder was. While technically there’s nothing wrong with the 11 tracks on the record and Lea sounds fantastic, you find yourself trying to pinpoint what it’s lacking. Places doesn’t really fit in the current music industry climate, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the album doesn’t really seem to go anywhere either. The problems kick in with second track Heavy Love and by the time you’re on track 11 the lack of variety makes it hard to distinguish one song from another.
In interviews Lea has referenced the earlier work of powerhouse vocalists such as Celine Dion as her inspiration for Places but even Celine on her most ballad-heavy albums provided a couple of uptempo numbers to offer relief from the vocal acrobatics. The theme across the album is love and there’s undoubtedly inspiration here from Lea’s late boyfriend Cory Monteith but there’s very little light to counter the darkness.
The closest the album comes to moving away from a ballad is Believer but even that track is really just a big ballad disguised with beats. The best moment on the record comes on Proud, which is both emotional and moving. Another highlight is the soaring Run to You, which requires Lea to restrain her voice slightly and it’s nice to hear her do something that doesn’t require belting at full volume.
Places isn’t the record I’d hoped it would be and it highlights the endless problem that Lea is likely to have. Technically she’s a remarkable vocalist and undoubtedly one of the best there is. Unfortunately she’s not yet found the material to allow her to shine as I know she can. When I think back to her most memorable moments from Glee, there’s nothing on Places that comes close to matching them.
Track List: 1. Love is Alive 2. Heavy Love 3. Proud 4. Believer 5. Run to You 6. Heavenly 7. Anything’s Possible 8. Getaway Car 9. Sentimental Memories 10. Tornado 11. Hey You Record Label: RCA Release Date: 28th April 2017