‘idina.’ (with a lower-case ‘I’ because Apple product placement and a full-stop at the end because maybe she’s making a point that her name is Idina and nothing else, and especially not Adele Dazeem) is Idina Menzel’s fifth studio album and her fourth album of original material, the other being a seasonal album of covers. The album jacket makes it look like this album was released in 2006. I honestly don’t think I’ve seen a bare midriff on an album cover since Nelly Furtado’s ‘Loose’. Unfortunately, the tracks on this album also seem to be lost in time.
Idina Menzel, of course, began her career on Broadway with celebrated roles in Rent, The Wild Party, Wicked, that Chess concert and If/Then. Then she won new fans and hearts with a recurring role in ‘Glee’. Idina Menzel has an incredible presence that stuns on first encounter but she also has an overwhelming heart and honesty to her character, not to mention a bang-on sense of humour and the most infectious laugh, that just make her extremely likable. Unfortunately, Menzel is probably best known as the voice of Elsa in Frozen. Not that I’m a Frozen sceptic. I still maintain that it is a great entry in the Disney catalogue and that ‘Let it Go’, however annoying, is a fantastic song. It’s just that I saw Frozen on the day it came out and for some reason it took a year for the rest of the world to catch up, by which point I was pretty over it. Last Christmas, while the world was hyped up on ‘Let it Go’, I was desperately trying to get people to add songs from Menzel’s ‘Holiday Wishes’ to their Christmas playlists. ‘Holiday Wishes’ has to be one of the best and most consistent seasonal albums I have heard in a very long time and tracks like ‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?’ really showed the natural affinity Menzel’s voice has for Jazz. I was hoping for an album of Jazz-standards but it seems Menzel has chosen to release the exact same kind of material from her previous studio albums that received mediocre reviews and had moderate sales success.
Idina Menzel’s vocal talent is unquestionable, despite those who might pick apart certain live performances of ‘Let it Go’ (have you ever tried to sing that song all the way through without lip-syncing certain notes or choking? It’s impossible to breathe during that song whether you can reach the notes or not). Not only does she have a magnificent range but the tonal quality to her voice is so rich and her slight lisp only makes it better. All my favourite people have a bit of a lisp, Sarah Paulson, that kid from Stranger Things. The problem is not the performance of the songs. She performs them perfectly. The problem is the songs themselves. As with the last four albums, almost every track on this album is a ballad. Idina Menzel can kill a ballad but the ballads we love her for are Broadway ballads, which are a very different beast to the pop-ballad. Ballads like – ‘Last Time and ‘I Do’, feel like they might have come from a very personal place and that really helps the songs. There is a raw power to these tracks but they are still forgettable. It’s hard not to compare break-up songs like this to Gwen Stefani’s ‘Used to Love You’. Of course, that is a phenomenal song and I can’t expect every song to be that song but I do feel like I can expect more from an album that comes eight years after the last studio album.
One of the only semi up-beat tracks on the album is ‘Everybody Knows’. ‘Everybody Knows’ reminds me of Cher’s ‘Believe’ album. Now ‘Believe’ was a great album but it was a great album in 1998. Who suggested dance keyboard in an album for 2016? Menzel co-wrote nine out of twelve tracks on the album and I suspect that means she wrote the lyrics. Lyrical the album is also flawed. All of the lyrics seem somewhat shallow and most don’t explore any new ground than what was covered on the last four albums. The album was produced by Eric Rosse who has worked with Tori Amos. Tori Amos is “my girl” and it is my greatest desire that everything in life would be just a little more Tori. The thing is that Tori Amos and Idina Menzel are two very different entities, which leaves me wondering whether Eric Rosse was the right person for this job. I’m sure that Idina Menzel would like her album to be considered with the other pop-albums of her contemporaries but the truth is that Menzel might have created a stronger album (for me, at least) working with someone like Richard Baskin who produced Barbra Streisand’s hugely successful ‘The Broadway Album’.
My favourite track on the album is the light-hearted and confectionary entry, ‘Cake’. It sounds like a Pink song from five years ago but hey, I like Pink from five years ago. It might be worth purchasing a digital copy of this track for any Menzel fans, otherwise I would give this album a miss. Still, I am not deterred by this and I eagerly await Menzel’s next album and or venture. I’m not saying, Queen Idina Menzel of Arendelle (that’s her full title) the next album should be nothing but covers. It could be covers for all of the album or just, you know, all of it. Whatever works.
To-date, Menzel’s best album entry is a live album called ‘Live: Barefoot at The Symphony’. There is also a DVD to go along with this album and if you’re a Broadway fan or like Frozen, I strongly urge you to look into this one. It includes a solo rendition of the song Menzel famously covered on ‘Glee’ – ‘Poker Face’. Menzel also performs all her most famous songs from her musical theatre career, ‘Life of the Party’, ‘No Day But Today’ and of course ‘Defying Gravity’. But the surprise winner on the album is a Jazz mash-up of ‘Love For Sale’ and The Police’s ‘Roxanne’. I told you, Jazz. Idina and Jazz. But also, Idina and covers. For an extra treat, look up Idina Menzel’s cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’.
‘idina.’ available on CD and digital download now.