Singer Carly Hennessy's debut album, produced and co-written by former New Radicals member Gregg Alexander and Daneille Brisebois, features '70s-influenced, radio-friendly power pop at its best. After the breakthrough success of Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too, Alexander retreated from the spotlight, deciding instead to focus on producing, and one could view this as a follow-up, with most of the New Radicals making appearances. The teasingly heartbreaking "You'll Never Meet God (If You Break My Heart)" is especially reminiscent of the New Radicals' hit "You Get What You Give," down to the shouted count-in. Similarly, Brisebois has had her own struggles attempting a solo career, with her albums receiving critical praise while being largely ignored by the public. Her presence on Ultimate High has the feel of a big sister/mentor relationship to 17-year-old Hennessy. Hearkening back to the blue-eyed soul of Hall & Oates and '80s-era Fleetwood Mac, Ultimate High often sounds like a melding of Sarah MacLachlan vocal stylings with Todd Rundgren compositions. Not as self-consciously hip or arty as Nelly Furtado, Hennessy nonetheless stands apart from her bubblegum contemporaries with a powerful voice that owes more to Pat Benatar than Mariah Carey. Never one to shy away from provocative jibes -- check out the rant at the end of "You Get What You Give" -- Alexander even has Hennessy giggly cooing the Britney Spears-targeted missive, "Hit me baby one more time," during the chorus of "Boy I'm Gonna Blow Your Mind." The Alexander/Brisebois-penned songs are mature, cheeky, and memorable nuggets that perfectly showcase Hennessy's flirty vocals. This is the kind of producer/songwriter meets ingenue relationship that thrived at the Brill Building during the '60s, and is a welcome development. A native of Ireland, Hennessy is also credited with a few songs which fare equally well next to her producer's compositions, proving that she's nobody's puppet. Barring the Steve Dorf-produced track "All Kinds of People" -- which sounds like a warmed-over early-'90s Seal B-side -- Ultimate High is a consistently brilliant album.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar