There’s nothing extraordinary about Vanessa Carlton. She plays the piano all right. She sings just okay, and she’s pretty enough not to scare off CD buyers with her face on an album cover. However, being just suitable isn’t enough. Since her 2002 hit and Zales commercial go-to song, “A Thousand Miles,” Carlton has yet to release material of a similar pop magnitude. Almost 10 years since and four records later, Carlton’s most recent release, Rabbits on the Run, joins the ranks of the nameless tracks and mediocre piano-driven ballads that have come to comprise her career.
Even in her heyday (if having a one-hit-wonder can be defined as heyday), Carlton only played second string to Michelle Branch, and on this record, her bland persona and middling musical dynamism only sink Rabbits on the Run further into this second-rate rut. On “Carousel,” there’s light, airy piano. On “Fairweather Friend,” there’s light, airy piano. And to no one’s surprise, there’s light, airy piano — complete with light, airy vocals — on every track. There’s nary a note of variety to be found on this record, where songs run the the extreme range between trite guitar ballads and trite piano ballads with Carlton’s almost squeaky vocals found somewhere amidst the rudimentary rubble.
However, if you dig deep within the trite, there is some, potential treasure. The muted and intimate, almost a capella vocals on “The Marching Line” recall the rawness of Cat Power’s “Lived in Bars.” But, to call those fleeting moments “treasure” would ignore how drab most of this album is. At times, when Carlton is crooning, it feels as if she’s as bored as anyone who listens to Rabbits on the Run will be.
Jessica Pena is the assistant arts editor.