Lea Michele’s first word uttered on Loud is “breakdown,” as heard on her first single and album opener “Cannonball.” Heavy-handed keys and mid-tempo production give way to a gentle anthem punctuated with Lea’s Broadway-esque cadence. Sia penned the track and Stargate co-produced it with Dr. Luke protege Benny Blanco. All four masterminds traveled outside of their comfort zones to provide a plush sound bed for Michele to recline comfortably upon, which is either a testament to the aforementioned team’s tailor-made artistry or Lea’s ability to put herself into anything she touches. Perhaps it’s both.
Sia’s DNA is actually scattered all over the project, from the loving regret on the acoustic “Battlefield” (that’s begging for a dance remix) to the nuvo-power ballad “You’re Mine.” And then Sia appears once again, to pen the Cory Monteith ode “If You Say So.” The closer lets you know its intent from the moment it starts, as Michele sings, “It’s been seven whole days since you paralyzed me / seven whole days since you lost your fight.” The track captures the week following the passing of Monteith, and while listening carefully, the heavy sighs signify that this was an incredibly difficult song for the Glee star to sing. Despite being an established actor, this song was no “performance” for Lea; rather it was her love letter to Cory and we were all just fortunate enough to listen in.
Other songs like “Burn With You” continue the power balladeering, where Lea emphasizes that she’d rather be in hell if that’s where her love will forever reside (religious fanatics feel free to dissect that one). There’s no shortage of pop songs either, as “On My Way,” “Thousand Needles,” “Cue The Rain,” and “Don’t Let Go” all deliver steady EDM, while the intensely subdued “Empty Handed” is another convincing notch in Lea’s “I Will Someday Be Celine Dion” belt.
We can pick apart Louder and deduce that the entire project is about Lea Michele’s love lost, or we can absorb it as the very first offering from a TV/Broadway star brave enough to step away from her roles and unveil her truest self. If taken as either, it’s still a partial win, though the singer still errs on the side of show tunes, and many songs sound like they can be gingerly inserted into staged scenes. The real test will come once the Glee and media mist fades, and Michele will be left with conceptualizing a sophomore project, since her debut’s concept was unintentionally decided for her.
Best Song That Wasn’t the Single: The rhythmic “On My Way.” Fernando Garibay assisted on the track, and it totally shows.
Best Listened To: At the gym, because nothing burns calories more than dancing on an elliptical while sobbing.
Idolator Score: 3.5/5
— Kathy Iandoli