Hear Me Out: Season two 'Idol' releases typical debut

By Chris Azzopardi

Kimberly Caldwell, 'Without Regret'

Kimberly Caldwell was never crowned "American Idol," but her debut sounds like she was - meaning, it's as going-through-the-motions mediocre as those who walked away with the title. The season two contestant can sing - and she does so like she's Kelly Clarkson living in Melissa Etheridge's body. (Remember Caldwell's version of "Come to My Window"? Awesome.) But that throaty wail and inviting tone only gets her so far with these 11 forgettable songs. "Desperate Girls & Stupid Boys," the only sign that her producers know a good hook, is high-powered pop with a zooming chorus that's from the Clarkson cookie-cutter. It's impossible not to compare the two, since both sing so well they could sell just about anything - but cuts "Heart Like Mine," "Naked" and "Hotter Without You" are so grade-school shallow that Caldwell comes across as a really good singer singing really bad songs. She can kill a ballad, as she does on the generic commit-already cut "Say Love," and get down with her funky-rock self on "Going Going Gone," but Caldwell's more one-dimensional than a stick figure - and she co-wrote the songs! Typical of "Without Regret": "I'm better off, I'm moving on/What you did to me was wrong." If Caldwell's voice wasn't so good, we'd suggest doing the same. Grade: C

Panic! at the Disco, 'Vices & Virtues'

Start panicking (at the disco, or wherever) - Ryan Ross isn't writing for the band anymore, and it's just not the same without him. Now only a twosome (singer Brendon Urie and drummer Spencer Smith), the hipsters reclaim the exclamation point and replace the quirky retro-pop of "Pretty. Odd." for pretty ordinary. Almost immediately, and definitely by the time "Hurricane" comes three songs in, "Vices & Virtues" echoes their debut, 2005's "A Fever You Can't Sweat Out." What's missing, though, is the mall-rat snap of Ross' lyrics, now replaced by emo cliches and second-rate sayings. "Memories" and lead single "The Ballad of Mona Lisa" are proof they haven't lost their touch when it comes to seizing heads with a bombastic hook that reels and rocks and sounds big enough to take over the world. "Let's Kill Tonight," which leans on '80s electronica, is daft trippiness that would probably sound better if you were stoned. Drugs won't help the dud "Trade Mistakes," however. It's simply awful filler. And the ballad "Always" is a high - a cute love song that, even with clacks and horns, breaks up the in-your-face flamboyancy. It pulls back just in time, before the album goes sound crazy on "Nearly Witches," which mixes kitsch, orchestral madness and a children's choir. It's the oddest moment among too many ordinary ones. Grade: B-

Also Out

Lisa Lampanelli, 'Tough Love'

Nothing or no one walks away unscathed from Lisa Lampanelli's lacerating bite. Not Michael Jackson. Not Haiti. Not gays. In the "Queen of Mean" comedian's latest stand-up show, released as a CD and DVD (with five bonus clips that were "too hot for Comedy Central"), she dishes out more stereotypes and, before going into a one-woman celebrity roast, concludes that "once you go fruit, your place will look cute." Whether she's yakking about leaving the dark side for a white man (with big nuts) or self-insulting - referring to last year's memoir as her "non-bestselling autobiography" - it's not tough to love Lisa.

Deep Dark Robot, '8 Songs About a Girl'

What's going on? Simply what it says - eight songs about a girl. The debut of super-songwriter Linda Perry, a hit-honer for the likes of Pink and Christina Aguilera, and Fatso Jetson drummer Tony Tornay - as the Deep Dark Robot duo - is musical therapy. There's fury and fear, sadness and regret. And the two non blondes don't serve it with a spoonful of sugar. This is raw, dirty stuff that hurts. Perry's voice shifts from raucous wail to eerie whisper, singing beautifully on "You Mean Nothing to Me," but the heartbreak never lifts - even when she's bitching out her ex on the last track.

Reach Chris Azzopardi at chris@pridesource.com.
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