Close-up of everyday pop star
Lights, a Canadian pop singer-songwriter who first came to prominence ten years ago, has gained a fanbase that views her as a significant pop star. Skin&Earth Acoustic gives those fans a glimpse behind the electropop veneer of Lights’ recent studio effort Skin & Earth, into an intimate setting mainly consisting of her and a guitar. Besides acoustic versions of previously-recorded tracks, Lights also presents three brand-new songs.
Anyone who has been engrossed in pop music for more than a year is familiar with what Skin&Earth Acoustic (S&E Acoustic) has to offer; it is the usual acoustic guitar, singer-songwriter stuff, of which a quick search on YouTube instantly yields thousands of purveyors. S&E Acoustic is so middle of the road that it straddles the double yellow line, blocking traffic in both directions.
Like most pop records with an acoustic aesthetic, the mood is contemplative; S&E Acoustic is best enjoyed sitting quietly. It’s quiet music for quiet cafés. The large majority of the mixes are a single vocal line and a single guitar line, though there are sometimes additions. “Savage (Rain Recording)” and “We Were Here (Tunnel Recording)” feature faint chorus vocals. “Skydiving (Cliff Recording)” and “Down Forever” are more keyboard-driven than guitar-driven. Some tracks use reverb more liberally than others, but all of the tracks have a consistently soft and moody vibe.
The most typical-sounding singer-songwriter guitar tone is on “Kicks (River Recording).” The guitar chords are faintly ambient and bittersweet, setting a contemplative mood that is penny a dozen at this point. The most ear-grabbing tracks are “New Fears (Bedroom Recording)” and “We Were Here (Tunnel Recording).” The productions sound dustier and grittier, and pack a rawer energy. It feels like sitting across a campfire from Lights, with the flickering firelight casting shadows on her face as she sings.
Due to the acoustic requirement of the recordings, occasionally the lyrical tone does not match the instrumental. For example, the eerie atmosphere of synths and chorus vocals on “We Were Here (Tunnel Recording)” is fantastic, but it does not mesh with the lyrics of self-affirmation. The lyrics would be better soundtracked by a loud, fist-pumping rager. “Lost Girls,” a hedonistic anthem for young women striving, would also work much better with a more upbeat presentation.
Acoustic projects like S&E Acoustic seem to aim at showcasing songwriting and singing, as well as lyrics. The album succeeds with respect to the first two. The songwriting is good, and Lights’ voice is so impressive, especially in her lower register, that she can probably jump into an edgier style of music and kill it. On the other hand, the lyrics are also showcased, but it is their shortcomings that are unveiled. The lyrics and rhyme schemes on “Savage” (“you blocked my number / I was alone in the rain and thunder”) are corny and over the top. The hook on “Tabs” is repetitive, and the lovelorn metaphors are so old that the mold growing on them is starting a family. And on “Lost Girls,” why is popping Advil something to brag about? Only the song “New Fears” has lyrics that shine in a good way. The song seems to be about a self-sacrificing, overprotective love; Lights sings a standout line that she will “drink the venom from your cut,” almost like she is a monster obsessed with the second person in the song.
Ultimately, Skin&Earth Acoustic blends into the pop landscape seamlessly. For fans, it will bring new perspective to the songs that they know by heart. The label heads probably made it for the money, but at least everyone can now see that Lights is very capable when it comes to singing and songwriting. While Skin&Earth Acoustic is sadly not a new bar of soap, it is safe and clean fun just like one.