Vanessa Carlton

Harmonium (A&M)

Like other teeny-poppers from the Class of 2002, Carlton faces the challenge of building a lasting career on the flimsiest foundation imaginable: adolescent loyalty. The growing maturity of her music will serve her well in the long run, but it's apt to cause a short-term career challenge.

The Harmonium arrangements conceived by Carlton and producer/paramour Stephan Jenkins, of Third Eye Blind fame, are lush and dramatic -- cascading chords, stirring choruses and swelling strings from the Paul Buckmaster school. This approach doesn't entirely compensate for those moments when Carlton acts her age from a lyrical standpoint -- e.g., "You say we're too young/But maybe you're too old to remember," from "Who's to Say." Yet they give the album as a whole a sonic cohesion that, from a distance, could almost be mistaken for gravitas.

Unfortunately, adults might not fully appreciate the hookiness of the appealing "Private Radio," while middle-schoolers weaned on the Simpson sisters may be baffled by the contrapuntal solo at the heart of "Half a Week Before Winter." Carlton is racing ahead of her audience, but in a sense, she's still a tween.

 
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