|Ashley Parker Angel:
Soundtrack to Your Life Label: Heartbeat Records
It’s a testament to this writer’s age that the name “Ashley Parker Angel” didn’t mean a single thing to him when it was suggested that he take on the task of reviewing Soundtrack to Your Life. Loosely translated, that means I’m an old man who clearly isn’t as up on youth culture as I thought I was. How depressing.
Anyway, Mr. Angel…or is that Mr. Parker Angel?...used to be a member of the made-for-MTV band called O-Town, but the band broke up and, suddenly, he was 21 years old and already on the verge of being a has-been. Thankfully, MTV only turns their back on their peeps sometimes, and this wasn’t one of those times; they hooked their boy Ashley up with his own reality show – There And Back – and focused on his efforts to score a solo recording contract. It didn’t hurt the drama any that, as the series began, the star of the show was broke, had a pregnant girlfriend, and was basically putting all his eggs in the basket marked “My Solo Album.”
Pretty ballsy, huh? Thank God it paid off. Now that the season’s over, it’s not really a spoiler to reveal that Angel was signed to Universal, and his first single, “Let U Go,” not only premiered at #17 on the Billboard singles chart, it also reached #1 on MTV's "TRL" countdown and was the #1 most added song to Top 40 radio stations the first week it was released to radio.
Although I admit that I’ve not caught a single episode of the show (as you might have figured, given that I didn’t even know who the hell this guy was), one certainly needn’t have been a regular viewer to appreciate this disc. In fact, it’s probably to your advantage if you’re unfamiliar with Angel’s history, as there’s virtually no trace of his boy band roots on Soundtrack to Your Life. The musical template Angel draws from is more along the lines of latter-day Goo Goo Dolls, the Click Five, Swirl 360, and, uh, insert your favorite slick pop-rock band here, basically. That’s not a dig, by the way. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a nicely-polished pop nugget, and there are plenty of them here.
The aforementioned “Let U Go,” along with “I’m Better,” were produced by Max Martin, which will no doubt raise eyebrows amongst music snobs because he’s best known for working with the Backstreet Boys and N*Sync, but let’s not forget that he’s also done time with the Veronicas, Pink, and Bon Jovi. Also behind the console for the disc are the Matrix (Avril Lavigne, Liz Phair) and Soulshock & Karlin, best known for their R&B work (Usher, Destiny’s Child, Brandi), which means you’ll find the proceedings highly radio-friendly. The music also has some stylistic diversity. The title cut could pass for a Third Eye Blind song, there’s faux psychedelia on “Who Cares?” (dig the lyrics about “strawberry daffodils, butterflies, and broken roller skates,” and how “the colors bleed like finger paints”), and even a cross between James Blunt and Tal Bachman on “Along the Way.”
Soundtrack to Your Life is, inevitably, a disposable pop album…but it paints Ashley Parker Angel as far more than just another former boy band member. There’s reason to suspect that this is merely his first step into a long-term career as a solo artist; at the very least, his next album will be one to watch out for.