The unlikely but nevertheless welcome winner of Pop Idol 2003
, the Scottish Cass-Elliot-like Michelle McManus is ill-served by some of the material and an awful lot of the presentation on her debut album The Meaning of Love
. But that's surely par for the course: depending on one's viewpoint, Pop Idol'
s "viewer's choice" methodology is either a healthy, consumer-enfranchising democratisation of mainstream popular music or merely another way of cynically spoon-feeding the masses the opium they've already grown accustomed to. In winning Pop Idol
, McManus defied existing stereotypes and thus deserves something a little more inventive than some of this prescriptive whitewash. She's been let down.
Every potential nuance of individuality and spirituality on The Meaning of Love (standard themes are make-ups and break-ups, but this is no Pet Sounds) is smothered as the songs are shoehorned into an easy-listening straitjacket. So, poor Michelle can only sound polite when singing "Sometimes I'm mad and break something" on "Emotional" when she ought to sound like she's hurling the crockery around in a fit of anger. While the tunes are serviceable (it isn't hard to imagine the Bee Gees performing "Say It Isn't So") and the production is as smooth as an infant's rear only the hit single "All This Time" and the title track (slightly gospel, slightly Caledonian, slightly Lena Martell) fit her personality. --Kevin Maidment
Michelle McManus must be truly exhausted. Within a matter months of her incredible triumph over Mark Rhodes to become Pop Idol, the 23-year-old from Glasgow releases her debut album. And on top of the gruelling recording schedule, there is the endless press and promotion to do too. I don't suppose she's had time to catch her breath!
Packed full of dreamy songs written especially for Michelle, The Meaning of Love, surprisingly sounds like a very competent and unhurried effort indeed. Things kick off with the epic "All This Time" with its glorious array of lush harmonies that make it stand out a mile. No wonder that this single made our heroine the first ever Scottish woman to chart at Number One with her debut.
Further along "Emotional" makes an impression. After a weak piano introduction it builds into a fine pop crescendo bursting with energy and enthusiasm. "When The World Is Not Enough" is up next and despite being co-written by Cathy Dennis (who wrote Kylie's "Cant Get You Out Of My Head") it should be overlooked. It's weak, saggy and missing even a spark of fire or passion.
To cover Nina Simone is a brave thing to do and to choose "Feeling Good" is even braver, yet Michelle has recorded a splendid rendition. She puts a strong vocal stamp on this classic song that is reminiscent of Alicia Keys. Michelle doesn't quite have the same depth and soul that oozes from the sultry Ms Keys but it's impressive stuff nevertheless.
"Once In A Lifetime" rounds things off nicely and, like so much of this collection, is absolutely made by its gorgeously supple string arrangements. It bends and stretches effortlessly as the violins soar and Michelle tells us earnestly that her 'once in a lifetime is now'. She may be right but judging by The Meaning Of Love she could well be with us for some time toc come. That's if the Pop Idol lifestyle isn't too much for her, of course. --Ruth Mitchell
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