Jesse McCartney

Beautiful Soul

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Jesse McCartney used to be a part of turn-of-the-century teen pop also-rans Dream Street, a group who made a few waves in 2001, just as the renaissance of 1999/2000 was starting to draw to a close. Like other teenage showbiz kids, McCartney covered his bases after the group's demise, signing with Hollywood Records just before he landed a role on the 2004 WB show Summerland, which just happened to be scheduled to hit the airwaves not long after his debut solo album, Beautiful Soul, hit the stores in September 2004. This kind of cross-platform positioning was commonplace midway through the 2000s -- Britney Spears may have started it, but Hilary Duff perfected it, rising up through Disney TV as the lead of the delightful sitcom Lizzie McGuire before having a number one album in 2003 with her first grand-scale pop album, Metamorphosis. That's the path that McCartney and his producers have chosen, and Beautiful Soul is a cross between Metamorphosis and Justin Timberlake's solo debut, Justified. It's targeted at the preteens who made Hilary a star, so it's light and cheerful, but it has the sleek, sultry grooves that made Justified a blockbuster, which means that McCartney has a chance not only to flaunt a little maturity, he's given a direction where he can grow. While some of the material here is a bit generic (the ballads are a particular weakness), the songs that work are shockingly good. The by-the-books teen pop songs, like the lead single, "She's No You," are engaging, but it's the tracks that draw deeply from Timberlake that really get the album moving -- the Robbie Nevil-written "Get Your Shine On" nearly trumps "Rock Your Body" as a successful update of Michael Jackson's Off the Wall. McCartney is still a teenager, still figuring out how to control his voice and use its sweet thinness as an advantage -- for anybody who watched Bravo's brilliant series Showbiz Moms & Dads, he can't help but recall a Shane Klingensmith with talent -- but these songs suggest that he will be able to figure that out, and it's the songs that make this album a welcome surprise.

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