As a rule, rock critics dislike ear candy; they prefer artists who challenge, provoke, and shake things up. That's why U2, Nirvana, the Clash, and Public Enemy have been critics' favorites and why Britney Spears, Celine Dion, and the Spice Girls have received so many negative reviews (which obviously hasn't hurt their record sales -- if scathing reviews were truly damaging, Boston wouldn't have sold millions of albums). But truth be told, commercialism has its place as long as it's well done. Rachel Farris' debut album, Soak, basically falls into the ear-candy category, which doesn't automatically mean that it lacks merit. Soak shouldn't be condemned simply because it isn't a Rage Against the Machine project -- that would be like attacking one of Meg Ryan's romantic comedies for not being an action flick. Soak should be judged by more commercial standards, and when those standards are applied, one has to conclude that the singer/songwriter has provided a generally pleasant, if unremarkable, collection of glossy pop/rock and adult contemporary ballads. Although the Orlando, FL, native was 26 when this CD came out in 2003, she has an ultra-girlish vocal style and sounds like she could be in her early teens -- and that approach works better on sweetly effervescent ballads like "Beautiful" and "In a Field" than it does on the more up-tempo tracks. When Farris sings about romantic disillusionment -- the kind described on "You Think" and "The End," for example -- the extremely girlish nature of her voice tends to render the lyrics unconvincing. But as uneven as this album is, one can hear that she has potential as a songwriter. Farris wrote all of the material herself, and despite Soak's shortcomings, one hopes that she will stay in the music field and keep writing.
by Alex Henderson