When actresses decide to go down the music route, all too often their efforts are in enjoyable but disposable pop. Every once in a while, an actress will attempt to carve out her own niche in the musical world; Taylor Momsen of Gossip Girl famously quit the show to become a snarling, successful rocker with The Pretty Reckless, while Emmy Rossum’s Inside Out record was a solidly soporific Enya-esque album. Momsen’s castmate Leighton Meester can now add herself to that list, finally emerging with her first LP, the folk-pop record Heartstrings.
And, fortunately, it’s one of the year’s most enjoyable and surprisingly gorgeous releases. Who knew?
Meester has crafted a wonderfully organic and thoroughly gorgeous sound on the record, one that her fans should lap up — the guitar pop on tracks such as the tranquil ‘Run Away’ and languid ‘Dreaming,’ for example, is more calming and pleasurable than anything we’d expect the actress who gave us Blair Waldorf capable of. She also succeeds in turning up the tempo on the more driving songs, such as the anthemic ‘Good For One Thing’ and toe-tapping ‘On My Side’.
The record is sonically held together by a cohesive blend of ’60s-infused guitar pop that could have come out of a West Coast hippie commune in the age of flower power, and some stronger folk sensibilities that shine on tracks such as the retro-inspired title track. Fortunately, Meester’s impressive vocals have matured and developed since her pop star days, and have become more than capable of holding a potentially limp record above water, extremely reminiscent of Diana Vickers‘ own sugar-sweet vocals.
Sadly, some of the songs after an impressive first half don’t offer too much in the originality stakes — ‘Sweet’ is a little too bland, ‘Entitled’ lacks a real edge to it – but these are minor complaints in the face of a well-constructed and relatively adventurous album, one that nods to the pop of the past while fully embracing its status as a radiant folk album and a true artistic statement from Meester.
For some, this transformation from pure pop to a folkier sound will be a sudden one-eighty degree – let’s not forget that Ms Meester’s last full professional offering was with punk-pop band Cobra Starship and their so-bad-it’s-good party anthem ‘Good Girls Go Bad’. Therefore seeing Meester as carving out her own sound and identity as an artist, away with the country movies and the candy-coated electropop of half a decade past, may be difficult for some fans. However, fans who are more open-minded will find a record brimming with winsome tunes and engaging vocal talent; and one that more than establishes Meester as one to watch.