One of the most popular, enduring, and endlessly enjoyable singer-songwriter chanteuses around, Ingrid Michaelson has a reputation for providing consistently solid records – such as the acclaimed records Girls & Boys and Be OK. Her latest record, Lights Out, is a dramatic step outside of her comfort zone, something easily recognisable by the dramatic and excellent cover art, and all but confirmed when you spin the LP for the first time.
But is it any good?
Yes, in short.
Lights Out is obviously and simultaneously Michaelson’s most sonically adventurous and mainstream record to date, released a time when she is experiencing domestic bliss with her husband (singer-songwriter Greg Laswell) and her children. This is reflected in the songs which generally show a happier, warmer vibe to proceedings – album opener ‘Home’ is a cosy, ambient-flecked way to begin the album while ‘Wonderful Unknown’, her duet with Laswell is full of domestic bliss and the little details which help paint a picture of a happy family indeed.
This same positive energy and mood continues throughout Lights Out, albeit in huge genre shifts that have Michaelson gleefully skipping from one to the other; one moment she is trading sultry come-ons in the catchy ‘Warpath’ which has enough pop clout and addictive handclaps to kickstart its progress to the top of the charts, while it’s soon joined by the breezy kiss-off ‘Time Machine’ and ‘Handsome Hands’ which brings in melancholic lyrics and some exciting and dramatic Kate Bush-esque production.
Even when Michaelson is in new-found territory, she is still sonically adventurous and daring on Lights Out – the idea of her doing dance-pop might terrify some long-time fans but the effervescent ‘One Night Town’, a ditty she performs with Mat Kearney, is guilt-free delight, while the sparkling lead single ‘Girls Chase Boys’ is a sweet and bouncy tune worth its commercial salt, and the acclaimed album track, the buoyant and uplifting ‘Afterlife’, is truly a standout.
The more typical songs such as the radiant piano ballad ‘Open Hands’, the enjoyable duet ‘You Got Me’, and the bittersweet and gentle ‘Over You’ (which has A Great Big World on duetting duties) shine as well with album closer ‘Everyone Is Gonna Love Me Now’ the best of the bunch with its slowly building beats which turn triumphant in the song’s home run, closing Lights Out with the same sweetness it began with.
All in all, the hardcore fervent fans of Michaelson might consider this a weak return for their favoured songstress and Lights Out is, in fairness, not without its faults (the weak filler ‘Ready to Lose’ springs readily to mind). However, this is the record of a woman at a fantastic place in her life, one that addresses the sadness and regret of the past, and yet is focused firmly on the here and now, the present happiness.
It might be pop music, something worthy of distaste to many, but when it’s done with a sense of playful joy, it transcends genres. Michaelson might have just pulled it off with Lights Out and with the great place she’s in. We couldn’t be happier for her.