Though it runs contrary to conventional wisdom, not all overtly commercial pop acts roll off the assembly line ready for Teen Beat stardom. Sure, you have your manufactured music-industrial-complex contrivances (Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, et al.). But there is a pop underground, too. And the reality is that artistic struggle and payin’ yer dues aren’t solely the domain of high-minded (read: pretentious) punk or indie types. Though Vermont can’t lay claim to many such folks with Billboard-busting aspirations — or at least many who would freely cop to them — we do have at least one. Vermont, meet Elle Carpenter.
As you may have inferred from the preceding paragraph, Carpenter’s solo debut, The Best, is a Pop record (capital “P”). And the VT-born, LA-based songwriter seems to have few qualms about that fact. From start to finish, this disc gushes with fare that may eventually fit snugly on the playlist of your local Clear Channel modern rock affiliate.
Take opener “Psycho,” for example. The tune presents Carpenter as a Gwen Stefani-esque pop-punk diva filtered through the Auto-Tuned nü-metal aesthetic of Linkin Park or POD. It even comes complete with a radio-friendly, generic rap-rock bridge — or, as I like to call it, “milque-toasting.” Not my bag, per se. But she pulls it off as well as most who currently dominate commercial airwaves in similar veins. And, hey, the kids seem to dig it.
Avril Lavigne is an acknowledged, and obvious, influence. The title track, “Tell Me You’re Lucky,” and several other numbers scattered about the disc bear this out with stark clarity. Interestingly, at times Carpenter also bears a striking resemblance to Cranberries front woman Dolores O’Riordan. That’s not a bad thing.
Carpenter makes numerous stylistic jumps throughout the record — albeit all within the pop-rock idiom. And to her credit, “Elle” — all pop divas must have a one-name pseudo-pseudonym, right? — seems comfortable in most all of them, from the rap-rock thing to more conventional power balladry (“It’s Okay (to Know You)”) and straight-ahead rock (“Return,” “The Ones”). That versatility could serve her well, should she ever attract the attention of a Tommy Mottola type. And I, for one, wouldn’t bet against it.
In the meantime, Elle Carpenter continues to plug away; for now, a struggling artist just like everyone else. She makes a homecoming appearance in celebration of her new CD this Friday, July 17, at Montpelier’s Black Door Bar and Bistro.