Vanessa Carlton spent much of her second album, Harmonium, running away from the pop success that her 2002 debut, Be Not Nobody, and its inescapable hit single, "A Thousand Miles," brought her, choosing to turn inward and confessional. It was an artistic decision that had a perhaps predictable side effect: it didn't sell nearly as much as the debut, failing to crack the Top 30 and generating not one hit single. Given this sophomore slump, it's not entirely surprising that for her third album, 2007's Heroes & Thieves, she's elected for a compromise between the two extremes: embracing the soft pop that brought her fame without rejecting the confessionals that distinguished her second. Some of this is merely straightforward heartache -- after the 2004 release of Harmonium, Carlton parted ways with Stephan Jenkins, the Third Eye Blind leader who produced the album -- but there are other matters on her mind, as evidenced by the mother-daughter saga "Spring Street" and the line about losing her record deal on the album's opening song and single, "Nolita Fairytale." True, she's moved from A&M to the rap-identified The Inc., but this isn't as drastic a change as it seems: the two labels are within the Universal umbrella, and Carlton has hardly gone hip-hop here. Instead, Heroes & Thieves delivers the expected, even more so than her second album: sweeping gusts of piano, sounds that feel dramatic but not weighty. Like on Be Not Nobody, there's a sense of lightness to Carlton's writing -- even if things get a little sad here, they're not gloomy -- which not only makes her accessible, it means that it's as easy to take this as mood music as it is for introspection. That Carlton doesn't quite provide incentive to dig deeper could be called a flaw -- her voice is too sweet and girlish to command, her melodies mellifluous but not grabbing -- but Heroes & Thieves flows easily, and it's a nice return to the strengths of her debut.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
feat: Stevie Nicks