- reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2007 1 Jan
- So Simple
- I'm Not Missing You
- Dream You
- Easy to Luv You
- Save Me
- Take Me Away
- Is It Me
- Don't Ask Me to Stay
- I Can't Give It Up
- Beautiful Awakening
It took all of four years—an eternity, by pop music standards—for Mariah Carey to fully recover from the disastrous Glitter. Everyone thought she was done, but then The Emancipation of Mimi happened and bam—it became the comeback album of 2005.
Not that Stacie Orrico ought to be compared to the diva (heresy!), but she too has been absent for a little too long. Tired of the glitz, the glamour, and the Gold plaque that followed her self-titled 2003 release, the then-teenager dropped everything and went to find herself.
She decided to go live a "normal kid's" life—away from music-biz madness, the flights to Japan, the Grammy after-parties, the red carpet appearances, the stilettos, and "people kissing my butt all the time" (her words). We don't blame her. The poor girl started performing and dancing onstage when she was 12, with nary a moment to catch a break and do what adolescents do: household chores, hang out with friends, work at McDonald's, and date boyfriends.
During her recent "normal" times, Orrico did all of the above and more, but the "boyfriends" part seems to be the chief preoccupation of Beautiful Awakening, her would-be return to pop music and her first all-out secular album. That's right: the songstress is a "former" Christian pop singer—not by creed, but by label dissociation. She's no longer with ForeFront Records—the Christian imprint that first gave her wings—but with its mainstream partner Virgin Records, the same folks who made her breakup anthem "Stuck" her first Top-10 crossover single.
Problem is, very few in the fickle pop landscape even remember "Stuck," or for that matter, her other hits "(there's gotta be) More to Life" and "I Promise." Popular music has a short shelf life, especially if you're not a firmly established act. Hence why Mariah can get away with long hiatuses but Orrico probably can't. You gotta keep 'em coming, or else the public forgets you.
Keep all of these factors in mind when approaching Beautiful Awakening, an album that, by the singer's own admission, is a reflection of where she's been since 2003. A close listen reveals not a teenager coming to grips with her womanhood, burned out by the industry, and ready to take the reins of her career. Rather, Beautiful Awakening is best described as a "relationships" album. In fact, 9 of the album's 12 cuts deal with that very topic—love songs, breakup songs, don't-touch-me-that-way songs, moving-on songs.
It's a narrow thematic scope when compared to the variety of Stacie Orrico. There are a few scattered detours ("Babygirl," "So Simple"), but collectively, Beautiful Awakening is mostly about boys, boys, boys.
Which isn't necessarily a bad or shallow thing. Quite honestly, a couple of these songs are some of Orrico's most inspired, self-reflective performances to date. Of these, "Is It Me" stands out the most, a dark, soul-baring number where the singer confesses to her own romantic indiscretions: "Falling on my parade and I / Get my hopes up when I'm in love / Then soon we break up then I'm back to the same spot / I've been lonely, drowning / 'Cause every guy turns out to be the same / So now I'm questioning if it's me to blame."
By comparison, though, the rest is all lighthearted stuff. Some of it is even silly, teen-crush fare ("Easy to Luv You," "Dream You," "Wait") that could've been sung by pretty much any other pop tart with less class and sass than Orrico. What's more, the singer's faith is never explicitly stated, thus diluting the one thing that distinguished her most from her peers. She does ask for wisdom when it comes to worldly materialism in "So Simple," and "I Can't Give It Up" expresses her conviction to remain sexually pure, but that's about as far as it goes.
The set is salvaged by the soundtrack, which occasionally sounds dated ("I'm Not Missing You," "So Simple"), but overall is varied enough to make up for the lack of diversity elsewhere. Stylistically, there are hints of old-school R&B ("Take Me Away"), dance-pop ("Don't Ask Me to Stay"), urban AC ("I Can't Give It Up"), and live-band pop ("Save Me"), among other tendencies. It's quite understated—nothing like recent offerings by Beyoncé , Nelly Furtado or Fergie—but it's clean, pure-pop fun anyway.
But that alone doesn't a great comeback make. If anything, Beautiful Awakening is a mild disappointment considering the potential Orrico showed with her early commitment to making music that could communicate truths—both earthly and eternal—in a way that didn't alienate her target audience. As it stands, Beautiful Awakening simply plays it too safe—by Christian and mainstream pop benchmarks—ultimately making it more of a sleeper than a hit.