Nick Lachey and Ashley Parker Angel

Lachey and Angel are members of an especially creepy brotherhood: They're both ex-boy-banders who opened their lives to reality-TV cameras in the name of career advancement. Nevertheless, their discs are poles apart. Lachey's CD is the equivalent of a tear-jerking Lifetime movie, while Angel's largely eschews lachrymose sentimentality in favor of machine-tooled entertainment.

Although most viewers watched MTV's Newlyweds to laugh at Lachey and Jessica Simpson, not coo over their idealized love, nearly every song on Left treats their breakup as a Titanic-like tragedy. Worse, the tunes utilize practically interchangeable sonics and language. On the drippy title cut, Lachey mewls about how he's "stuck in the shadow of my mistakes." Four songs later, during "Shades of Blue," he's "thinking back on my mistakes" again. Of course, his biggest error was re-exploiting his failed marriage via this patience-testing whinefest, but betcha he'd never admit it. After all, honesty like that doesn't sell.


Nick Lachey and Ashley Parker Angel

Fortunately, Angel, who's starred in two reality opuses -- Making the Band, about the late, unlamented O-Town, and There and Back: Ashley Parker Angel, his comeback chronicle -- seems more interested in generating new fans than sympathy. Soundtrack cuts such as "Let U Go" and "I'm Better" are catchy, up-tempo pop honed by the hit-making likes of Max Martin and the Matrix.

Granted, much of Angel's other material is less adequate. Yet even the overtly sensitive "Apology" has less to be sorry for than anything on Lachey's album, which proves once again that reality bites.


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