Dreams like Susan Boyle’s die on sophomore albums.
At one time or another, they were once fervent and alive. There were dreams of redemption, dreams of vindication from mimicry and superficiality. There were dreams of justice and humanity on an Earth gone astray. If you believed, even just for one brief moment, like the judges on Britain’s Got Talent and the unsuspecting audience (I can still picture the camera ‘coolly’ capturing a young girl snickering to her friend something probably along the lines of “Well, this is going to be embarrassing!”) that the instant that a slumped, browbeaten – okay, let’s face it – unattractive woman walked onto that stage she would do anything other than fall flat on her face, then you were a part of those dreams.
Susan Boyle did the dreaming for you. And it didn’t matter if you were the presumptive chorus or cheerleader, right or wrong, since we as humans generally feel strong things for persons who prove somebody wrong, or overcome some obstacle or another. Do we tear up more at Susan Boyle than an attractive starlet who tackles even higher registers, even more difficult songs? We sure do.
So, it’s no surprise that Boyle’s first album followed a certain, winnable format. “I Dreamed a Dream” was pure emotional fantasy, with a brimful of ballads written by artists (The Rolling Stones, Schonberg) who had palpitated strength and courage amidst a world cruelly taken by judgment and doubt. That’s not to say many of us don’t care for Boyle’s voice or range, because they are certainly pleasant enough, but the average person doesn’t want pleasantry; we want passion.
Compare the lead-off single from “I Dreamed a Dream” (“Wild Horses) with The Gift’s “A Perfect Day.” The former grasps out from Boyle’s coy but irrepressible voice for miles upon miles; while the latter wanders amidst Lou Reed’s park benches and zoo animals. Appropriate for a perambulating druggie, the song is, but for Boyle, who finds herself at the nadir of interest with her sullen pleasantry, it’s not enough to hold much interest.
Ironically, the album finds the singer in her most familiar of territories: the religious song. It was here, in fact, that Boyle’s voice was first nurtured (she had released albums with church choirs prior to Britain’s Got Talent), and it would be misguided to ask Boyle to be anything but amiable and immodest on tracks like “Silent Night” and “The First Noel.” But Boyle wasn’t a star back in those early days for a reason, and she’ll perhaps soon die out once we start believing she’s now a dream deferred.