Lindsay Lohan clearly spells out her ambition in the title to her second album, A Little More Personal (Raw) -- she's going to shed the glitzy trappings of her debut, Speak, and dig down deep in her heart, letting feelings flood onto the page. And, for better and worse, that's exactly what she does, nowhere more explicitly than the opening track (and lead single), "Confessions of a Broken Heart (Daughter to Father)," where she rails against her absentee father, whose transgressions and addictions have been gleefully chronicled by tabloids. It's a bracing minor-key assault that's honest to a fault, particularly since it's not especially artful, yet it sets the tone for the rest of the album with its somber, self-conscious confession. A heavily stylized Strum und Drang hangs over the album, seeping into the purportedly lighter moments; for example, a clunky cover of Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me" that arrives after "Confessions of a Broken Heart" reads more as another plea to her dad than as celebration of an unrequited crush.
While this makes for an album that's substantially more interesting and cohesive than the gaudy Speak, it doesn't necessarily mean that A Little More Personal (Raw) is a successful record, either. There's a large gap between teenage angst and teen pop and it's hard, if not impossible, to find a bridge between the two: soul-searching doesn't sound convincing when married either to dance-pop or to the dour anthemic pop/rock that Lindsay pursues here. Like her nemesis, Ashlee Simpson, Lohan has created a sour amalgam of slick '80s revivalism, mall-punk, mainstream pop, and rock learned via the local Hot Topic. She skims the surface of each style and sound, and the calculation behind it all isn't just transparent, but celebrated -- beginning the title track with Lindsay muttering "I like when people talk in beginning of songs/I think that's kinda rad" lays bare all the machinations behind the record. And while commercialized calculation may be a given with the teen pop territory, the end result sounds big, slick, and oddly depressing, particularly because Lohan seems obstinately determined to have no fun whatsoever.
This compulsion to sound serious and mature sank Ashlee's I Am Me, but A Little More Personal (Raw) is by far a better record than that, because Lindsay, at least on this album, has one thing that Ashlee does not: conviction. She really means it, man, when she sings about her father, or when she sings about alienation and heartbreak, and this emotional investment when married to the duly professional, straight-ahead songcraft of her collaborators makes for interesting listening. Again, that's not the same thing as fun, and the glossy gloom becomes a bit overbearing fairly quickly into the album, at which point it's hard not to marvel at the fact that Lindsay is expending so much energy on confessing matters that are already part of the public record. At the same time, this knowledge helps Lindsay's teenage angst seem more genuine than Ashlee's on I Am Me, and even if A Little More Personal (Raw) is far from being totally successful, it is an intriguing mash-up of heart and commerce. And it does suggest one thing that Speak never did: Lindsay Lohan may have an artistic vision as a recording artist, which is indeed a huge step forward.