Bubblegum pop is easily the lowest common denominator within the genus of the music industry and music itself. Boy bands are quite possibly the most frivolous and disposable facilitators of music within that department. And reality shows, along with their stars, are debatably the biggest money-making gimmicks this side of modern pop culture.
Ashley Parker Angel was one-fifth of the defunct boy band O-Town. Now that stigma may seem severe enough in this industry but to add insult to injury, he was a part of a boy band that was manufactured via a reality TV show. And to serve as icing on such a detrimental cake, he and his group recorded bubblegum pop of the most atrocious kind; the kind of fluff that subtly tried to take itself seriously. Subsequently, his group’s sophomore release, that pitifully tried to peg them as serious singing/songwriting pop/rockers, got them laughed right out the back door of the music industry.
So it’s a bit of an understatement to say the odds were stacked against Ashley when he undertook the arduous task of trying to establish his career as a solo act. The mere thought of the uphill battle towards a record deal alone would be too much for most ex-pop music outcasts. But Ashley was resilient and determined to gain redemption from his past musical indiscretions.
So he set out for Hollywood with a demo tape and a dream. He managed to connect with the R&B powerhouse production duo Soulshock & Karlin, secured a deal with Blackground Records, yet another reality show with MTV, _There & Back_, and after more than a year of blood, sweat, tears, engagements, babies, and financial destitution, Ashley’s debut album, Soundtrack To Your Life, has been allowed to see the light of day.
Now, of course, the major thought on everyone’s mind is whether or not Ashley has any actual talent seeing as how you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to be a functioning member of a fluff-pop quintet. And despite his credibility being shot to hell for obvious reasons, there are those who are still willing to give Ashley the benefit of the doubt and a fair chance at proving his musical capabilities. So the question remains: does Soundtrack deliver?
And the answer: pretty much, yes. Despite having been signed to a major R&B label by a major R&B production duo, Soundtrack is a straight-up pop/rock record to its core. For the sake of tangible comparisons, the Goo Goo Dolls meets All-American Rejects with a dash of new-skool Bon Jovi would be pretty accurate. Ashley has a strong, earnest vocal inside his throat and a strong penchant for introverted metaphor inside his pen. And with a production arsenal including Soulshock & Karlin, The Matrix, and Max Martin, there’s little chance of the sound of the record going wrong.
And the opening quartet of tunes aggressively attest to these statements. Lead single, Let U Go, is yet another Max Martin creation that follows the tried-but-true formula of hushed verses/abrasive hooks being backed by thundering drums, crunching guitars and faux-raw energy. I’m Better just builds upon the formula with a summery sheen added courtesy of peppy drumkits. Soundtrack To Your Life is an exciting dose of Matrix-constructed, piano-driven power-pop with an eloquent lyric (about life essentially being a song) and instantaneous hook. And Feels So Alive is essentially all the elements of the first 3 tracks wrapped into a 3:30 package and laced with one of those hooks that hits you from miles away.
And from there, the instant gratification that all awesome pop/rock records should have ends. The rest of the album takes a turn into serious singer/songwriter territory. But thankfully, the record has great aim and succeeds in its intentions more often than it fails. Crazy Beautiful is yet another tale of a girlfriend who’s both crazy and beautiful all at once. However, Ashley’s lyricism does a great job at detailing the contrasting emotions resulting from such a relationship against the somberly hopeful backdrop. Who Cares? is serene and has an ethereal charm to it that’s alluring yet confounding.
It’s eerie and odd and one of those records that you’re not quite sure how to take yet works in a weirdly cool way. And Shades of Blue is a stark and chilling tale of neglect and ignorance culminating in suicide that will easily leave the listener impressed at Ashley’s storytelling capabilities and their finger on repeat.
Beautiful Lie and Perfect Now are harmless, forgettable nuggets of power pop/rock that equate to tolerable filler, at their best, and a useful bridge to the closing trio of inspired tunes.
Where Did You Go? is comparable to much of the ballads from All-American’s last record but stands on its own thanks to Ashley’s pensive vocal and heartbroken lyric wrapped around a lilting piano line that subtly flickers like a candle. Along The Way is the personal highlight due to its natural atmosphere and honest emotion. It’s unaffected with no pretense and details the uncertain joy of being stuck in the present with no clearly defined path for the future in a breathtakingly calm manner. And Apology is that dramatic finale filled with stark, raw emotion that all good pop/rock records tend to end on. Just Ashley, a piano, and regret. Good times.
Soundtrack To Your Life definitely delivered on the promise that Ashley has shaken off his boy-band, fluff-pop, reality-star wash-up stigma and matured into a full-fledged musician. He has definite talent and a few stories to tell and as long as he continues to build upon the solid foundation he has now, no doubt he’ll be remembered as a credible singer/songwriter instead of the knock-off Justin Timberlake that never was.