Season 12 posed a nagging question, on its volition and otherwise: How was Glover passed over twice already? She has said that she arrived with a big voice but little else, like the instinct to sing “Lovesong” despite Idol‘s producers. (“Everybody was more supportive of my big voice, and so I said I didn’t want to scream at America every week,” she said to Yahoo!.) Or, perhaps, to approach Music Speaks as she did. A sharp snapshot of R&B then and now, Music Speaks inspires the latest Idol winner to exercise even more restraint than she did on the show.
Neither coronation song “I Am Beautiful” (now a bonus track) and standout single “Cried” impacted US charts as hoped, though this seems beside the point. “Same Kind of Man” is glittering retro soul by way of Duffy; slick brass and guitar licks add oomph to Glover’s lilting yet self-loathing lyrics. (Try not to melt when her falsetto flutters while singing “sweet butterflies.”) “Kiss Me” simmers as if inspired by Brandy‘s 1998 album Never Say Never, while the ambient “Passenger” is part modern gospel and faintly echoes of Florence + the Machine, if not Beyonce‘s “Halo.” Throughout these soul settings, Glover keeps her composure to the point where Music Speaks feels a world removed from “Drunk In Love” and its remixes.
Yet, save for a lagging middle — three mid-tempo tracks arrive in succession — it doesn’t feel stale. While she boasts a powerhouse voice, Glover clearly wanted to show a new side of herself. As loud as her protests are in “Cried,” standout “Damn” is a delicate piano pop song about being the other woman, somehow only caving when her falsetto arrives to damning effect (“You keep tryna convince me you’re gonna leave…”). Despite the stakes and car-rattling bass in “Coulda Been Me,” Glover sings with verve but doesn’t overwhelm the melody, making the task seem too easy.
Music Speaks is exquisite. Realistically, for this reason it may not catch on right away; Idol forces contestants to deliver gratuitous renditions of older songs in its search for a modern-day pop star, so those expecting to hear Glover roar as she did will initially be disappointed. Give the record a chance, though, and it should recall a standout moment from when she was a finalist on the show — not her take on “Lovesong,” but that same episode’s “Don’t Make Over.” She sang the Burt Bacharach and Hal David-penned song as a pop standard, mostly as Dionne Warwick did but with ferocity at one particular line: “Accept me for what I am, accept me for the things that I do.”
While Idol‘s judging panel clearly favored one performance over the other, the first was just as perfect.
Best Listened To: During a moment to yourself.
Full Disclosure: While I was initially rooting for Amber Holcomb, Glover later won me over with her perseverance.
— Christina Lee