Marykate O'Neil


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For a listener sitting comfortably in the late '90s, during the height of the Lilith Fair craze, Marykate O'Neil would've fit in perfectly with the influx of female singer/songwriters who appeared then. Her voice is friendly, her guitars are warm, her lyrics are sweet and honest: she's the perfect pop package. With her self-titled debut, which came out in 2002, the tail end of the movement, it can be understood why so many of these attributes were present, and it was fine. But with the release of her follow-up album, 1-800-Bankrupt, four years later, things seem a little dated. Not that there should be any obligation to follow contemporary trends, but everything that O'Neil's doing here just seems like, well, it's already been done hundreds of times before. And while the singer doesn't do a worse job than any of her predecessors, she doesn't do a better job or bring anything new, either. Jill Sobule, O'Neil's co-producer and co-songwriter, leaves her indelible mark on the record with proper-noun-driven lyrics that talk mainly of lost love. But while Sobule, in her own music, comes across as quirky and introspective, O'Neil just seems cheesy and consumed by her broken heart. Most of her words have all been said before ("Why don't you stay?/It's just one day" or "Everything's a shade of gray/Since you've been away") and her melodies, while comforting, are boring and absolutely predictable. It's made-for-radio pop that no radio is playing. O'Neil has had some great inspiration and influences leading up to her own work, much of which is heard in 1-800-Bankrupt -- "Why Don't You Visit" hints at Joni Mitchell and "You'll Be Sorry" is practically an homage to Aimee Mann -- but they only manage to remind listeners of what other artists can do, not of what O'Neil herself is capable. There's nothing wrong with 1-800-Bankrupt -- despite the insensibly campy lyrics, the short repeated choruses, the lullaby-pop harmonies -- but there's nothing right with it, either.

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