In truth, I am a complete poser when it comes to Michaelson, the bespectacled singer-songwriter darling from New York. I fell in love with her breakthrough single "The Way I Am" when I had to hunt it down after hearing it in Old Navy commercials in my pre-blogging days, and thenceforth would proclaim myself a fan if asked despite never having heard another of her tracks - or even trying to. Hers is, or was, I imagine(d), the kind of music I enjoy when it's on and I don't have to pay much attention, but that I wouldn't seek out in bulk, as to me the songs all tend to sound rather the same (which, I'd guess, is what her hardcore followers probably think about the music I generally blog about). But what I'd heard I'd liked, and I was content.
Michaelson's new single, "Parachute," is a new interpretation of a song written for British pop chanteuse Cheryl Cole's recent debut album by Michaelson and Marshall Altman, and while it is in fact a bonafide pop single, the apocalyptic cries of selling out to the dark side of manufactured pop are amusing in light of Cole's version (a sensual, surprisingly effective tango, slower than Michaelson's). People can argue back and forth and on and on ad nauseum about the lyrical content (think of the metaphor of lover as parachute, i.e. protection from falling...and you've pretty much got it) or the verse-chorus-bridge structure (more on that in a moment) all they want, because as this is a pop song, those things really aren't the point, nor are they what sets good pop apart from the rest.
What Michaelson does with "Parachute" that is notable, and that will likely keep it in heavy rotation on my playlist for a few weeks before I play it out, is produce an expertly crafted pop single that doesn't sound typical or derivative. Like Cee Lo Green, Mike Posner, La Roux, and Michaelson's friend Sara Bareilles have all done in the past several months, Michaelson has come out with a good pop single that doesn't really sound like a pop single at all...and that's a skill a clever artist from outside the mainstream pop scene (like Green, Posner, La Roux and Bareilles) can take all the way to the bank.
Michaelson's vocal is at once the strongest and weakest part of the record. As charming as it was, "The Way I Am" stood out more for its disarmingly mundane lyrics ("I'll buy you Rogaine/ When you start losing all your hair") than the young woman singing them. Not so on "Parachute," which is probably a blessing since lyrically, particularly on the chorus, the song is no great leap forward from Rihanna's "Hard," Britney Spears' "Gimme More" or even Marilyn Manson's "Beautiful People," for that matter: instead it's Michaelson's unique voice that shows through on lines like "You are your own worst enemy/ You'll never win the fight." Indeed, in other moments her musical delivery hearkens back to the eager, starry-eyed, lovable Michaelson one gets in "The Way I Am," as in the slight upward trill of "Hand behind my neck/ Arm around my waist." Those are easily the most convincing and effective moments of the track, and it's only regrettable that the vocal is only inconsistently so, the rest of the time veering toward a disaffected ho-hum a bit closer to insincerity than even the pop-infused listener cares to hear.