Throwing the baby out with the bleach water, Katharine McPhee ditches dance-pop and her long brunette locks for her second album, Unbroken, upgrading to AAA crossover pop and a short blonde crop. The sudden departure was necessary, driven by the general disregard for her 2007 debut, which in typical post-American Idol fashion, chased after big hit singles at the expense of her show persona. On Idol, McPhee always favored middle of the road over modern, and Unbroken returns her to that course, bringing her somewhere within the vicinity of Paula Cole (who co-writes the title track), Rachael Yamagata (who co-writes “Keep Drivin’”) and Mandy Moore’s stylized ‘70s throwback, flavored with the slightest traces of modern sounds, including a vague borrowing of Beyoncé phrasing. The vibe fits McPhee, feeling like a deliberate blend of her “Over the Rainbow” and KT Tunstall tribute, but its cautious, careful crawl creeps right into the marrow of the album, slowing its heartbeat to a murmur. Professional that she is, McPhee sings to the contours of the song, fading into their supple formlessness and never investing them with personality. The only time Unbroken awakens from its deep slumber is at the end, when she rolls around to Melanie’s “Brand New Key” for a bonus track; it’s the only song with a melody that hooks, the only song that gives McPhee a stage where she can strut and, tellingly and sadly, its status as a golden oldie offers a reminder that she was better on Idol than she has been on record.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine