Bonnie McKee

Trouble

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    5
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Unlike most of her teen pop peers in the early 2000s, Bonnie McKee gets writing credits for all the music and lyrics on her debut album. But though a songwriting team like the Matrix isn't involved, Trouble's producers (Rob Cavallo and Bob Power) have crafted it to sound nearly exactly like its competition, and McKee's lyrics about adolescent empowerment and the ways of the heart aren't too different from what's already out there. Lead single "Trouble," "January," and "When It All Comes Down" all pulse along on electronic percussion and multiple layers of crackling guitar effects, and McKee is surrounded by multiple vocal tracks. Slower material like "Sensitive Subject Matter" and the ballad "Honey" do showcase her voice, which is stronger and more expressive than many of her peers. But the warmth in McKee's vocals and "Honey"'s piano and horns are at odds with a programmed artificiality that generally makes Trouble's vitality fade. The bluesy arrangement of "Green Grass" is a nice touch; it's like a slicker version of Joss Stone's style. And the rangy acoustic guitar effects of "A Voice That Carries" complement nicely its modern cowgirl mosey. But the songs still share the album's affected quality. It's as if the quirkier arrangements are intended as image builders, designed to add a spunky flair to the tousled, sassy McKee. Pop music doesn't require very much substance -- it's meant to be inviting, familiar, and easily accessible. But while Bonnie McKee's debut features an ultra-modern sound that's been proven successful, its homogenization ends up working against it. Pretty but ultimately empty, Trouble doesn't establish McKee as anything more than another hopeful.

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