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Sparks Fly by Miranda Cosgrove
Music Reviews - July 28, 2012

Figures that the best song on the debut album from iCarly star Miranda Cosgrove would be the one she actually had a part in writing! After being unsatisfied with the 64 kbps burnt copy I received from a pal, I decided to pick up a copy of the standard edition of Sparks Fly, eight tracks of what I understandably expected to be 25 minutes of sparkly teen pop radio anthems. But now, boy am I disappointed that I didn't spring for the deluxe edition with 4 extra songs and a poster! I lay here writing, and trying not to wish too much for a revision of Best Buy's return policy.

Heartfelt right from the get-go, Sparks Fly opens with Cosgrove detailing a warm moment with a lucky guy, "sparks fly, it's like electricity." "Kissin U," the only single to date proves that besides writing the song, Cosgrove also spoke for herself when describing the motive for the album. "Some people might think I'm just another actress putting out an album, but I wanted to prove that I'm more than that" said Cosgrove in an interview with Billboard.com. The affection and compassion in Cosgrove's vocals speaks for a track that she's made her own and puts herself in a realm separate from the likes of Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears whose number one singles were purely business, written to make money.

Unfortunately, this ideal doesn't survive the test of time. Even in "BAM" (track 2), it feels as though she's lost her way and fallen into the Nickelodeon/Disney money pit, with synths that ring Lady GaGa and a hook that can only be described as "radio." "Disgusting" isn't at all, originally intended to be a Ke$ha single, but later being recorded and released by Cosgrove. With a sort of spacey feel again reminiscent of Lady GaGa, "Disgusting" feels like it would have been more fitting as a Ke$ha song, but Cosgrove makes it work giving it her own voice to mask the juvenile samples and steel drum bridge that, at best, bewilder the listener. "Shakespeare," odd subject content for a 17-year old teen pop icon, showcases Jeff Rothschild's ability to not overplay the percussion, but to instead write a part that complements other aspects of the song. "Shakespeare" doesn't stop with appropriate drums, as an acoustic guitar serenades the listener prior to a sort of "bridge breakdown."

"Hey You" is an odd addendum to the track list, with a Michelle Branch feel and lyrics pertinent to actual feelings, even if they've been dumbed down a bit for preteen iCarly fan-girls. A vocal range that really harmonizes with the instrumentation is to blame for a hushed and reserved feeling in this relevant hit. "There Will Be Tears" would have earned itself better stance had it been tacked on at the end of the Metro Station album, but here it feels like a squander of talent for an aspiring artist. "Oh Oh" never had a chance in my book with a recurring vocal sample of a mindless "oh oh." With a sort of Avril Lavigne-esque dance-pop feeling, it's ironic that it wasn't "Oh Oh," but "Daydream" that was originally recorded and released as a b-side by Avril. Not the sad finale I expected, "Daydream" is composed of dumb, hollow verses paired with indisputably catchy choruses. A lackluster bridge is only fitting, but peaks with a yearning "You're my!" yell that hints at that "into it" feeling that could have produced a flawless album.

With an obvious potential for improved sentiment, Sparks isn't quite the magnum opus Cosgrove was searching for, but as an 8-track ode to adolescent being, Sparks Fly is well worth the bill and earns Miranda a spot on my "buy their follow-up" list.

Jason Derulo by Jason Derulo
Music Reviews - July 28, 2012

It's rather rare for an artist to float an entire career on the success of a lone single, and Mr. Jason Derülo's debut album, aptly titled Jason Derülo, is no exception. "Ridin'" on the success of his explosive digital single "Whatcha Say," Derülo began work on his album, but to no avail. A collection of 9 short R&B tracks, Jason Derülo is no gem, but does fit right in with the likes of Beluga Heights label partners Sean Kingston and Iyaz.

Is it any surprise that the first track on the album is Derülo's already double-platinum, tear-dripping, deceptive R&B single? With an Imogen Heap sample alternating between right and left headphones to start the track off right, a series of J.R. Rotem watermarks doesn't feel out of place, but actually seems to complement the track as Derülo clarifies just who exactly it is we're listening to. "Whatcha Say" is by all means a display of Derülo's vocal range and ability to use that talent, really paying homage to Imogen Heap's original, "Hide & Seek," a prominent basis for the track. With heavy bass and a tormenting chorus, it's no wonder that "Whatcha Say" blew away my top 25 most played thanks to iTunes' "repeat one" function.

The perturbing, nasally vocals of "Ridin' Solo" are to blame for a truly deplorable follow-up to "Whatcha Say." Originally sampling The Verve's namesake track, "Bittersweet Symphony," it sounds as though "Ridin'" had potential, but when the sample didn't clear and was consequently replaced, the track's only plus became its divine breakdown during the final chorus. "In My Head," the album's next single, is a breeding ground for digital watermarks during its intro, featuring "J.R. Rotem," "Beluga Heights," and "Jason Derülo" in rapid succession. A chorus not even catchy by radio terms and minimalistic verses are responsible for the track's mild chart success. A reproduction of the "Flashdance… What a Feeling" tune lays the groundwork for "The Sky's The Limit," Derülo's ode to the love-struck, pining lust of 1980s radio pop. Catchy verses and a memorable chorus can be attributed to another Derülo original (remake of an original).

The unfortunate drum fills and marginally sad piano, combined with lyrics that don't really make enough sense to even decipher, make for the downfall of "What If," and an entrancing synthline is the only highlight of "Love Hangover." "Encore" may have been built on the same blueprint of "Love Hangover" featuring a token final chorus accompanied by an overpowering synthline, exactly like its predecessor. "Fallen" could be the work of an 'N Sync castaway, and "Blind" is far from catchy, only being partially spared by a piano.

It seems Derülo's best bet is to continue sampling already successful tracks and shoot for a similar triumph. Whether fair or not to the sample-contributing artists, it's a way for them to achieve more mainstream success, regardless of how true to the original each track is. Boy was I disappointed when I read about the omitted "Bittersweet Symphony" sample.

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