CD Introduction [Alex Parks] (CD 6306029),
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Introduction [Alex Parks]
Manufacturer Part Number (MPN): 9866213
Any release from BBC's Fame Academy is likely to come under more scrutiny than those from the Pop Idol stable, largely thanks to the show's insistence that its contestants are a cut above your average manufactured Simon Cowell puppets. Having wowed judges and audiences alike with her passionate emotive vocals, there are high hopes that 2003 winner Alex Parks will make up for the crushing blandness of previous victor David Sneddon's debut album to become the credible singer/songwriter that her talent show beginnings hinted at. Which makes it slightly disappointing that seven of the thirteen tracks on her first offering, simply titled Introduction, are cover versions which she previously performed during her triumphant ten-week run. Indeed, while her sullen demeanor is perfectly suited to the melancholy of Gary Jules' interpretation of Tears for Fears' "Mad World," the perfunctory renditions of Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful," R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts," and John Lennon's "Imagine" are the kind of lazy, ubiquitous classics you'd expect from a cynical Mother's Day cash-in, while her attempts to put her own spin on proceedings, such as a driving rock reworking of Eurythmics' "Here Comes the Rain Again" and a shuffling pop/rock take on Coldplay's "Yellow" fall spectacularly flat. It's a shame that Parks, or rather her label bosses, didn't have the courage to allow an album of entirely new material, as most of the six original compositions, co-written with the likes of Blair Mackichan (Sia), Gary Clark (Melanie C), and Boo Hewerdine (Natalie Imbruglia) are far more encouraging. "Maybe That's What It Takes," a gorgeous slice of laid-back guitar-pop which recalls the Pretenders' "I'll Stand by You," is arguably the best winner's single to come out of a reality show; "Cry" is an equally impressive follow-up which flits effortlessly between low-key trip-hop and angst-ridden indie pop, while "Wandering Soul" and "Dirty Pretty Things" are rousing banshee rock numbers which suggest Parks could give Alanis a run for her money in the future, although the aimless folk-pop of "Not Your Average Girl" (co-written with fellow contestants James Fox and Carolynne Good) indicates she still needs more established collaborators to bring the best out in her. An album of two halves, Introduction feels partly like a serious attempt to position Parks as a convincing recording artist, and partly like a cheap "will this do?" quick-buck affair, but if she can avoid the unnecessary covers for album number two, she's got every chance of fulfilling her potential. ~ Jon O'Brien
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Universal Distribution 9866213
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