Leighton Meester's new album pulls on fans' 'Heartstrings'

(Photo Courtesy of Hotly Wanting) (Photo Courtesy of Hotly Wanting)

At one point or another, it seems like every Hollywood "it" girl takes a stab at releasing a pop album. While pop stars usually have an easier time transitioning into movies, the transition from starlet to pop star is generally futile, embarrassing starlets like Paris Hilton and Jennifer Love Hewitt. Recent crossover successes such as Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande are rare exceptions; more often than not, these forays into a different medium tend to be seen as opportunistic vanity projects.

Luckily for Leighton Meester, few will be able to level that kind of criticism at her. After parlaying her explosive success on the small screen in The CW's hit series "Gossip Girl" into being featured on Cobra Starship's double platinum hit "Good Girls Go Bad," Meester seemed poised to be the next big crossover pop star. Heartstrings10-29

She then worked with artists like Robin Thicke on a few more singles, but a full album never materialized. Just as her pop flame began to dwindle, her "Gossip Girl" co-star Taylor Momsen became rock royalty as the lead singer of The Pretty Reckless, transcending her wholesome image and eventually leaving the show to be a musician full-time. For those watching at home, seeing Jenny Humphrey upstage Blair Waldorf must have been bittersweet, but at the same time it seemed like Meester had a lot more to offer beyond being a good actress.

Five years after "Good Girls Go Bad" and a score of film and Broadway roles, Meester is back in the music game with her first full-length album "Heartstrings." Receiving a low-key release through her own record label, Hotly Wanting, on the same day as Taylor Swift's highly anticipated "1989," Meester has clearly refocused her efforts since the last time she was under the music industry microscope. "Heartstrings" is a decisively intimate album, made to conjure images of coffee shops instead of arenas.

"Heartstrings" is a slightly overproduced album with slick backing tracks and modulation on Meester's voice that is mild but too noticeable. For evidence that she has genuine pipes, look no further than her performance in the Gwyneth Paltrow movie "Country Strong." In this album, that strength barely shines through. Her vocalization is never bad in "Heartstrings," but there are never moments that sound distinct or worthy of considerable attention.

A few tracks are better than others, with the title song and back-end "Blue Afternoon" standing out against an album that more or less runs together. Each song kicks on a new repetitive beat and Meester's vocals continue to drone on. The lyrics are fairly interchangeable; always competent but never revelatory. The most notable thing about the album is how short it is, clocking in at just over a half hour even as it seems to go on for at least 15 minutes longer.

Going by the web's reaction to this release, fans of Meester are going to love what she has done here. There is a lot to admire. What could have easily been a vain, cynical commercial play is instead a personal work by an artist who aspires to be the master of multiple domains. This considered, there is very little on "Heartstrings" that can be recognized as a cut above what so many other burgeoning amateur musicians are coming out with. While there is no doubt the potential is there, Meester's music career differs from her acting career in the sense that it is not ready for primetime.

"Heartstrings" is now available for digital download from Hotly Wanting Records. You can listen to the entire album on Spotify here.

Reach the reporter at zheltzel@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @zachheltzel.

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