home   site updates   review digest   reviews   featured artists   links   about us  
Current concise reviews of the albums by adult alternative, contemporary, and crossover artists. Images of album artwork and links to both internet-based resources are always included. Click on the title to view the article.

Digest Index
Current Digest
Instrumental Digest
Introduction CD Cover
Image © Polydor Records UK 2003  

(18 January 2004)19-year-old Alex Parks will be known to British visitors of Musical Discoveries as the winner of BBC 1's most recent Fame Academy series. This is by far the best of the pop reality shows, promoting, as it does genuine talent and compositional ability over blandness and looks. Though I watched very little of the series, Alex came across as an engaging personality with a tomboyish image (she is openly gay). The album Introduction (Polydor (UK) 9866005, 2003) has been rushed onto the market to take advantage of Alex's inevitable high profile.

Not, then, a particularly enticing prospect,but the resultant album is actually rather good, and worthy of considerable attention. Alex's superb voice – emotional, versatile and rich – has been put to work over seven original songs and six covers that mainly represent the songs she performed during the show. It is also gratifying that two of her collaborators on the original songs are two of Britain's best, and most underrated, songwriters – Boo Hewerdine and Gary Clark.

Unusually, the album opens with two originalballads. "Maybe that's what it takes," her first single, is a good song that never quite tears at the heartstrings in the way that it should. However, "Cry," the second single written with Gary and Boo (how I would love to hear Boo sing it!) is a magnificent song well served by Alex's vocal performance and its arrangement. "Dirty Pretty Words" is much rockier with a great, dirty guitar sound on its chorus, and a strong suggestion of Avril Lavigne about it. The next original song is "Not Your Average Kind of Girl," a more ethereal ballad with some lovely harmony vocals and Beatlesque guitar.

"Stones and Feathers" broods in its verse before a dramatic chorus and an unexpected, choral coda bringing to mind the drama of Evanescence. The album closes on two more original songs, the superb, crunching "Wandering Soul" (Gary and Boo again) and the emotional, dreamy "Over Conscious."

The covers, which are mainly spread across the middle of the album are a frustratingly varied bunch. John Lennon's "Imagine" is a trite choice, and despite an atmospheric arrangement, comes across no better than well performed karaoke. The Tears for Fears classic "Mad World" is given a similar arrangement to the version that was at No. 1 is the UK charts over Christmas 2003 by Michael Andrews – slow, brooding and atmospheric.

Her cover of REM's "Everybody Hurts" suits the fragility of Alex's voice well, but it fails to find the same ache that Michael Stipe manages on the original. The song written for Christina Aguilerra, "Beautiful," however, is much improved by Alex's stripped down, less hysterical rendition. And the Eurythmics' "Here Comes the Rain Again" is converted into a joyful piece of guitar pop that takes off delightfully on its chorus. Sadly, Coldplay's "Yellow" is given the carbon-copy treatment, when a rearrangement would have been far more interesting.

Alex is clearly a considerable talent, and lovers of well-crafted pop will enjoy this considerably, even if they might like to edit out one or two of the covers. Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and orderthe album from amazon.com here. Some visitors may it more reasonably priced at amazon.co.uk.A second recording of original compositions--when the Fame Academy excitement has died down--is an enticing prospect indeed.--Stephen Lambe

last updated on: