Skye Sweetnam Noise From the Basement (Capitol, 2004) Click here to listen to “Number One,” and here to listen to “Tangled Up in Me.”Two months ago, Ashlee Simpson’s lip-synch malfunction on Saturday Night Live brought a fresh wave of scorn down on teeny-bopper music. But the past couple of years have offered ample evidence that teen pop functions well as a farm system for grown-up pop. We’ve seen superb albums from former kiddie stars Justin Timberlake and Usher; even Britney Spears managed to release “Toxic,” the Bollywood-surf rock-techno mishmash that may be 2004’s best single. The truth is, sometimes teen pop is godawful overproduced schlock, and sometimes it’s … terrific overproduced schlock. In the latter category is Noise From the Basement, the debut album by Skye Sweetnam, who, despite her name, is not a porn star. She’s a spunky Canadian with a fondness for rebel-girl postures, guitars that grind through minor chord progressions, and hummable melodies. It’s all very Avrilesque, in a good way: On “Number One,” the charging four-chord punk-pop is seasoned with snatches of Beatlesy harmony; “Tangled Up in Me” is filled with endearingly mild anti-authority boasts like “I’m the girl who’s kicking the Coke machine.”
Lindsay Lohan Speak (Casablanca, 2004) Click here to listen to “First,” and here to listen to “Rumors.”Lindsay Lohan had to make a record if only to keep pace with Hilary Duff, her rival in the tween-queen version of the Biggie-Tupac feud. Anyone who has seen Freaky Friday and Mean Girls knows Lohan can act, but she has no discernable musical talent, and on the sluggish Speak, there’s scarcely a catchy tune or rousing beat to distract from her, um, singing. Shouldn’t the folks at Casablanca Records have made sure the pitch-correction equipment was working when they were mastering “First,” the album-opening boogie-rocker on which Lohan’s vocal is quite audibly flat? Then there’s the single, “Rumors,” in which Lohan tries to pull off some syncopated R & B vocalisms while griping about the unwanted attention she gets “up in the club.” It’s enough to make you pull for Duff in the next red-carpet throwdown.
JoJo JoJo (Blackground, 2004) Click here to listen to “Leave (Get Out),” and here to listen to “Baby It’s You.”JoJo is a 13-year-old Bostonian who was discovered at a talent show. Her first two singles, “Leave (Get Out)” and “Baby It’s You,” have reached the Billboard Top 40, earned her a name check on the new Eminem album, and established her as the best of the New Christinas—a teeny-bopper with a serious melisma habit and the lungs to support it. And she’s been given some good songs to sing. “Leave (Get Out),” sets a guitar-strafed teen breakup ballad to a slick hip-hop beat. “Baby It’s You” requires greater than usual suspension of disbelief—it’s odd hearing a seventh grader tell her boyfriend that she’s “looking for more” than diamond jewelry—but JoJo slides her voice over its bare-bones loop with freaky assurance, unleashing falsetto trills and low moans like an R & B diva twice her age.
Ryan Cabrera Take It All Away (Atlantic, 2004) Click here to listen to “On the Way Down.”In the middle of the female-dominated teen pop field stands the spiky-haired and deeply metrosexual figure of Ryan Cabrera, whom regular readers of US Weekly will recognize as the one-time boyfriend of Ashlee Simpson. At 22, he’s not technically a teenager, but he remains profoundly in touch with his inner teen—the scrawler of diary entries who records, in exhaustive detail, his feelings, and his feelings about those feelings, and the emotions that his feelings about those feelings evoke. “On the Way Down,” Cabrera’s current hit, finds our man singing, in a breathy Dave Matthews style, about the girl who “saved me from myself.” It’s an incredibly crisp piece of record-making, with every close-miked guitar pluck and drum fill slotted in place, and by the time it climbs to a caterwauling bridge (“Now the weight of the world/ Feels like nothing!” Cabrera shrieks), it’s clear that this song was created for one purpose: to accompany a tender beachfront epiphany on The O.C.
Maria Mena White Turns Blue (Columbia, 2004) Click here to listen to “You’re the Only One.”“You’re the Only One,” the first U.S. single by Maria Mena, an 18-year-old Norwegian with a decidedly un-Nordic name, briefly made the TRL countdown this past summer. It should have been a bigger hit. It’s a perfectly shaped pop song: a jittery little two-chord acoustic guitar vamp that opens, with a wheels-off-the-runway whoosh, into a ringing chorus. You can hear Mena’s debt to Alanis Morrisette in her nasal talk-singing and her taste for blue material (“Forgive me/ For that time when I put my hand between your legs/ And said it was small”). But Mena has her own flair; on “You’re the Only One” (co-written with producer-arranger Arvid Solvang), she projects both schoolgirl innocence and wisdom beyond her years. “You’re such a great kisser,” she sings with a girlish gasp, before adding darkly, “I know that you agree.”