Gossip hounds hoping that Nick Lachey's first post-divorce album would be laden with songs about his doomed marriage to Jessica Simpson will be pleased -- scratch that, delighted -- with What's Left of Me. If the album title doesn't clue you in to what it's all about, a glance at the song titles tip off its content: "I Can't Hate You Anymore," "On Your Own," "Outside Looking In," "Everywhere But Here," "Ghosts," "You're Not Alone," "Resolution" -- it's a virtual greatest-hits of brokenhearted laments, all sequenced as if it were a concept album about a man coming to terms with a painful divorce. To top it off, the centerfold photo finds Lachey sprawled out on a mattress in a grungy trailer, a stack of worn books, a TV with rabbit ears, and an empty beer bottle within reach, all bearing the unmistakable subtext that this is what the separation from Jessica has left him with (he also offers the following thanks: "most importantly, Miller Brewing...thank you!" -- but don't get ahead of yourself and think that this is a nod of gratitude to the beverages that got him through this difficult time; it's part of an extended thank you to "all of my friends who help to satisfy my sports addiction," which takes up as much space as his business, family, and fans thanks). So, this second album from the former 98° star provides plenty of voyeuristic satisfaction, as each song -- whether it's written by Lachey or not (and chances are, it is, since he has writing credits on eight of the 12 songs) -- plays into the theme, which makes it kind of like the boy band Blood on the Tracks. And while it's hard not to have sympathy for a guy whose sexpot ex allegedly cuckolded him through her affairs with Johnny Knoxville and Bam Margera (it's possible to imagine a more humiliating list of lovers for Lachey, but even if you added anyone from Wilmer Valderhama to Artie Lange to that list, it wouldn't seem as bullying, as violent as that pair; it's practically a Jackass stunt), it's sure hard not to wish What's Left of Me was a whole lot better.
The problem with this record, as with the Backstreet Boys comeback of 2005, is that the boy band sound, particularly the singing style, does not lend itself to maturity. Give Lachey credit for not patterning his record after Jon Secada's early work, which BSB inexplicably did. He tries hard to sound modern, incorporating elements of anything from Ashlee-styled modern pop (ironic, isn't it?) to Coldplay, whose spacy surfaces are heard throughout (most notably on "Beautiful," whose echoing piano riff can't help but recall "Clocks"). This gives What's Left of Me a relatively fresh feel, at least superficially, but the songs slavishly follow the boy band formula for the turn of the century -- which is a setback in itself, but their lack of memorable melody hurts it even more. Then there's the problem of Lachey's breathy, simpering vocals, which may work fairly well when surrounded by other breathy, simpering singers, but when they're pushed out front to stand on their own, they have no presence -- they fade away into the production. And when that's married to melodies without melody, the whole album becomes one long, glossy song. But that doesn't mean What's Left of Me isn't interesting -- Lachey's valiant twin struggles to modernize his sound and get past his impending divorce certainly make this album interesting. It's not good, but it is interesting, and it is memorably odd, and even if it suggests that Lachey may have a rough time growing old with his signature sound, it still is hard not to finish the album and have a twinge of sympathy for the guy. Plus, he'll likely have the last laugh: he and Jessica had no prenup, so half of that marriage is his, so even if What's Left of Me fails to kick-start his career, he's probably not gonna wind up struggling to get by in that trailer.