Album Review: Mandy Moore, “Wild Hope” (2007)

It’s been eight years since Mandy Moore first appeared in the music scene. She debuted as just another young teen pop star; her first album amounted to nothing more than a dreadful collection of bubblegum pop, but still, I knew Moore had something about her worth keeping an eye on. In the recent years, I’ve been a bigger fan of her acting choices (A Walk To Remember, Saved!, Because You Said So) until I purchased her fourth album, Coverage, earlier this year. The disc presented a more mature version of Moore, with much better material, and I found myself finally becoming a fan of her music as well. Moore’s fifth studio album, Wild Hope, has further cemented my admiration for her music. All the great things about Coverage are present here; the album is filled with well-written lyrics (all of which are co-written by Moore herself), pleasantly sung songs, and a laid-back mood that makes the album perfect for a lazy summer day.

The disc starts off with the upbeat first single, Extraordinary. The song is one of many that Moore co-wrote with indie/folk band, The Weepies, and the combination of a breezy melody and catchy refrain (“And now I’m ready/And now I’m ready/And now I’m ready/To be extraordinary”) makes the song a highlight and great start to the album. All Good Things (another song with The Weepies) follows, and the song boasts another mellow sound and memorable chorus. However, it’s the refreshing honesty in the songwriting that makes the song; Moore’s sentiment of reflecting on the good parts of a relationship instead of the bad (“I keep pushing the blues’/Cause I know I don’t wanna lose/What I loved about you…/I can think of a million ways/You proved you weren’t the one/So live inside of your shades of gray/And never mind the sunshine/That I’ll find…”) is something that most everyone can probably relate to.

The tempo picks up a bit for Slummin’ In Paradise, which besides having yet another addicting chorus, isn’t very remarkable. Though a bit subdued in comparison to the other songs on the album, Most Of Me holds a classic sort of charm to it, and again takes a honest look at relationships in the lyrics (this time co-written with Lori Mckenna, whom also makes several appearances on the album). Moore sings of being unhappy in a relationship (“I’m not ready to confront/I’d rather cement my words this way/This could be the easy road out/But I’m just not all that happy/So I’m writing all this down/And I’ll file it in a drawer someday/In lieu of a conversation/We’d probably forget to have anyway”), but wanting to work things out anyway, (“I won’t hold anything back/And I won’t hold anything in/Feel like I know where this is going/And I might know how it ends/But I’m still/Willing to begin”), which is another situation that most people have dealt with before.

My favorite song on the album appears early on with A Few Days Down (it honestly seems like the combination of Moore and The Weepies is pure excellence). As I’ve stated before, Moore doesn’t necessarily have the best voice I’ve ever heard, but her tone is always sweet and pleasant to listen to. This is clear during the simple melody, but again, it’s the that lyrics I can personally relate to (“It’s a take-out weekend/It’s a fake-out smile and pretend/If nobody sees you cry/You can say it was raining outside/And all that you want/Is a few days down/All that you need/A little time to drown/It’s to be expected/With all the weight you carry ‘round/All that you want is/A Few Days Down”) that hold most of the song’s charm. Can’t You Just Adore Her? follows, and is almost as brilliant as the song before it. This time around, Moore sings of a girl with plenty of quirks (“She likes chocolate in the morning/She drinks her coffee late at night/You can sense that she is guarded/But that’s alright/She’ll fall asleep while you’re still talking/With unfinished books beside her bed/She’ll cancel all of her appointments/And go shopping instead”) and then asks, “Can’t you just adore her?”. The clever prose paired with the soft, guitar/piano sound creates a great track.

The album’s title track is another treat. We are first introduced to a hushed tune, comprised mostly of acoustic guitar, drums and vocals (though the ukulele also makes an appearance). The song is almost soquiet that you’ll probably forget it during the first few listens, but the lyrics alone are worth listening for (“In the crazy world/Anything can happen/If you will it to/I’m just a hazy girl/Blurring all the edges/Only seeing blue…/It’s a wild hope/Everything will alright”). Moore’s voice is also particularly lovely during the choruses, and the song is one of the album’s highlights.

Still, a few of the tracks tend to blend together, even after repeated listens of the album. Looking Forward To Looking Back has a great chorus (“And I know you loved me in your way/I’m looking forward to looking back on these days/And I’m fine, but I’m not okay/I’m looking forward to looking back on these days”), but is pretty lacking in all other areas. Nothing That You Are is slow and somewhat dreary, and though I do like listening to Moore’s voice during the verses, the song isn’t one that I can recall offhand. The same could be said of Latest Mistake– an up-tempo number which sounds decent enough and has decent enough lyrics (“This is a delicate unraveling/Now and then I find pieces on the floor/Tiny little bits that tell me/Maybe I shouldn’t do this/Or love you anymore”) but doesn’t have enough to stand out against the better songs on the album. Ladies Choice begins with a lovely string arrangement and then segues into a fairly catchy, fairly memorable song. It’s again the chorus that stands out, but the song as a whole isn’t either a positive or negative addition to the album.

Things come to a close with Gardenia. The song marks an appropriate end to the album, with lyrics that tell of trying to find yourself after the end of a relationship (“I’ve been seeing all my old friends in the city/Walking alone in Central Park/Doing all the things that I’ve neglected/Traded ‘em all in/To be in your arms…/Everything I lost seems so different/Well, this is how everybody gets found”). The “breakup” theme is a common one on the album, obviously because Moore had just come out of a serious relationship with Zach Braff at the time, but this song (and the others) hold no trace of bitterness; instead, Moore comes off as a mature woman, reflecting on the good and bad times of a relationship, and then reevaluating herself and the situation at the end of it all. Besides the wonderful lyrical content, the song is also a treat to listen to; another simple melody (just piano and vocals) allows Moore to show off her vocal talent, and the ballad is a good showcase for her voice. The song ends just as quietly as it begins, and finishes the album off on a very strong note.

You might not have thought so eight years ago, but out of all the teen pop princesses, Mandy Moore seems to be the one that’s matured the most musically (Christina Aguilera is an arguable competitor). Wild Hope is a wonderful album, that’s expertly written, produced (John Alagia– who has produced for both John Mayer and the Dave Matthews Band), and sung. Moore’s new pop/folk sound works well for her and it’s plain to see that she’s developed into quite a capable singer-songwriter, whom I look forward to hearing more from in the future.

Rating:200px-4_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Extraordinary
2. All Good Things
3. Slummin’ In Paradise
4. Most Of Me
5. Few Days Down
6. Can’t You Just Adore Her?
7. Looking Foward
8. Wild Hope
9. Nothing That You Are
10. Latest Mistake
11. Ladies’ Choice
12. Gardenia

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