Nick Lachey


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98° were the also-rans of the teen pop mania at the turn of the millennium. Sure, they had hits -- three singles made it into the Top Ten -- but they never had a song that wormed its way into public consciousness, the way the Backstreet Boys or *NSYNC did, nor did they even have a definable image outside of being pretty boys. All of which puts their lead singer, Nick Lachey, in an awkward position for his solo debut -- or SoulO debut, if you want to play along with the terrible pun that functions as an atrocious title for his first record. Unlike Nick Carter or Justin Timberlake, he was not well-known outside of his band, nor does he have a voice that's familiar from radio play. Also, where Timberlake was savvy enough to work with hip producers like the Neptunes, Lachey -- like Carter before him -- doesn't stretch himself at all on SoulO, preferring to stick with the sound of 98°, which, by the time this was released in late summer 2003, was sounding outdated. Now, this wouldn't be a problem commercially if he could sell himself on his celebrity, but since he was better known as the husband of Jessica Simpson (something that their MTV reality series Newlyweds is unlikely to change), he couldn't rely on radio play. It wouldn't be a problem artistically, either, if the stuff was well-constructed ear candy, but like his wife, Lachey suffers from terminal squareness. He is predictable in his songwriting and song selection, his voice is straight-ahead and undistinguished, and his production too clean, so it all winds up sounding like music for young kids that yearn to be middle-aged. If the music was as awful as the title on SoulO, at least it would be an interesting listen. Instead, it's just thoroughly bland, sounding too much like the work of a teen pop also-ran. Lachey has a pleasant enough voice, but he has no charisma to sell these songs; he does a little better on sprightly pop tunes like "Could You Love" than he does on ballads, but overall, the record suffers from Lachey's earnest aspiration to be dull. In that sense, it is a good companion to Simpson's similarly hemmed-in In This Skin, since both are utterly, shockingly Squaresville, man. In a different time, this couple would have been regulars on Andy Williams' variety show, not on MTV.

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