A bubble in the draining diva bathwater

Adam Griffiths

What exactly is Adult Contemporary?

Once upon a time it meant someone like Tina Turner. Then sometime during the ’90s, it became acceptable for the frequent Top 40 song to pop up on Adult Contemporary charts. As it stands now, John Mayer sits atop the Billboard Top 40 Adult Contemporary chart with his “Waiting on The World to Change,” followed by Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars,” The Fray’s “How To Save a Life” and Rascal Flatts’ “What Hurts The Most.”

So Adult Contemporary is a little slow on the uptake, suitable for any television show that’s popular with women aged 18-24 and ultra-introspective to the point of near self-indulgence.

That pretty much sums up the fourth album from Canadian singer/songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk, and it’s anything but surprising.

Kreviazuk’s growth is traceable throughout the progression of her releases. Her debut, Under These Rocks and Stones, is a powerhouse in the vein of early Sarah McLachlan and Alanis Morissette. (It was released in 1996, after all.) Her sophomore, Colour Moving and Still, is the classic Canadian under-the-radar throwback to the ’90s. She busted onto the American scene in 2002 with the title track from her next album, What If It All Means Something, which garnered major airtime on MTV and VH1.

Ghost Stories

Chantal Kreviazuk

Released on Nettwerk

Stater rating (out of five):

★ ★ ½

Ghost Stories is a rare find in the mess of popular music today. There are no guitars on the album – anywhere. (Which is surprising, as the album was produced by her husband/Our Lady Peace leader Raine Maida.) Instead, Kreviazuk wields a personal arsenal of talent, piano and strings. There’s a very surprisingly heavy sound to the album. It makes a steady impact from beginning to end.

It’s admittedly haunting, which is expected and at times effective. The lead track, “Ghosts of You,” is a proper introduction to the forty-some minutes to come. Shaded with steady pop melodies and a striking air of American Gothic, she admits, pleading with a lover, “I don’t wanna live forever / but I wouldn’t mind infinity.”

The arrangements are the best part of the album, which is probably why everyone from Gwen Stefani to Kelly Clarkson to Avril Lavigne has recruited Kreviazuk for collaborations. She has a distinctly American flair. Ghost Stories has the attitude of a sultry lounge performance, the mobility of our modern lifestyles and the knack for feel-good.

But despite the distinct touch that she’s popular for, Kreviazuk never seems able to escape her own limitations. There’s no appreciation or self-understanding of her vocal range. While unique and powerful, she warbles on “Wendy House” and “I Do Believe.” Then there’s the fact that she’s always singing about the same things. Coming of age, lost love, the complacency of life – she even recycles “Time” from her last album.

Kreviazuk doesn’t have any problem being a waning testament to a cluttered, if not schizophrenic genre. “So Cold,” claiming that “All they know is to photograph / people when they’re on their knees,” and “Waiting for the Sun,” which doesn’t “want to get too complicated / but it gets so dark that I can’t see,” seem all-but-surely “Grey’s Anatomy” bound.

Ultra-introspective? Self-indulgent?

Ghost Stories: a telling sign that there’s still something to be said, in the second half of the first decade of a new millennium, for a hardcore, ’90s album dripping in the puddle leftover from the diva pool and a dose of musical feel-good … la Dion.

Contact ALL correspondent Adam Griffiths at [email protected].