Joanna

This Crazy Life

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Way back in 1996, young Joanna Pacitti garnered national attention after she won -- and then lost -- the title role in Annie for its 20th anniversary tour. After performing the show on the road, Joanna was fired shortly before the opening night on Broadway because she hadn't sufficiently convinced the producers of her acting abilities. Though she took the not-so-subtle clues given to her and retired from acting, that persistent spirit so imbibed in her and her former character apparently never died, and by 16, Joanna found herself nicely set up with a record deal from Geffen. Oh, how the sun came out for her! The five years it took between then and the release of her debut were allotted so that Joanna could grow and develop as an artist under the tutelage of masters Linda Perry and Diane Warren, among others. Sure enough, This Crazy Life has all the workings of a pop masterpiece: plenty of strings, haunting synth grooves, aggressive electric guitar, slick production, a romantic piano ballad, an emo cover, and warm, catchy melodies all around. Yet, despite all of this, there's something about the record that's wholly unsatisfying. Maybe it's because it seems as if it's trying to be too much. It's certainly a pop album, but because its greatest concern appears to be improving its chances of broad appeal (while still staying mindful to current, Kelly Clarkson-like trends), it gets lost in its own diversity, never quite finding its own path. The opener (and the album's first single), "Let It Slide" starts off with a dark R&B groove that turns into a barrage of rock chords by the time the chorus arrives; a formula that, by the time it's used on "Your Obsession," is not very fun anymore. "Just When You're Leaving" should be, if it's not already, incorporated heavily into one of the MTV faux-reality shows, "Tip Toe" is all organ and Wurlitzer and funk guitar, "Ultraviolet" starts with children singing -- in a very Jay-Z "Hard-Knock-Life" (taken from, gasp, Annie) move -- and the title song, probably the best on the album, doesn't mesh at all with the feel of the other songs. "This Crazy Life" is intense, more Evanescence than Pink, and the chorus, with the inevitable strings, sounds a lot like Sarah McLachlan's "Stupid," with the chorus "You can lay down, Mama/Let me be your cover/Let me be your mother" driving it along. The worst part, though, even with all these different things happening, is that there's nothing on This Crazy Life that's truly catchy, that grabs you unabashedly the way pop music can. Yeah, the songs are easy to sing along to after a few listens, but only because the lyrics are pretty simple and the melodies are familiar in that you've probably heard better versions of them a thousand times before. The album's too much and too little at the same time, simplifying where it needs to expand, and expanding when it needs to stay more basic. We already know Joanna can't act, and though her voice is good, she hasn't proved yet with This Crazy Life that she can make it as a pop star, either.

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