To be fair to the Michalka sisters, Aly and AJ aren't really a TV band. They have benefited from their ties to Disney, but unlike Miley Cyrus, their music has been only marginally tied to their television work.
But the big question is, do these girls make good music?
They've been compared to the Wilson Sisters (Heart), which is an interesting comparison. Both acts feature siblings and they have Seattle ties, but musically much of what Aly and AJ has released to this point has very little to do with the music released by Ann and Nancy.
Aly and AJ's latest release, Insomniatic, is composed of a variety of musical styles, but the thing that struck me as I listened to the CD was how well constructed this album is.
Beginning to end it's a strong CD. There's not a clunker here.
ritically the Michalka sisters have been getting great reviews.
In the most recent issue of Billboard, Chuck Eddy writes, "In which the teen princesses of Radio Disney construct an endlessly ambitious yet endlessly effervescent confessional pop-rock breakup album that deserves to carry them far beyond their teen pop base—in the Pat Benatar era, that would've been likely."
Chuck's comment about the Benatar era is well stated. Aly and AJ have done everything they need to move to the next level and expand their music to an audience beyond Radio Disney's tween demographic, but can they do it? Maybe, maybe not. It's a very difficult thing to do. Modern Disney's former musical princess, Hilary Duff, released her latest CD, Dignity, earlier this year. Another relationship album, Dignity is heavily laden with techno dance pop. It's also very biographical, with very pointed lyrics describing the failure of Duff's relationship with former boyfriend, Joel Madden. Despite generally positive reviews and a top twenty leadoff single, Dignity is stalled at the lower half of the Billboard charts with sales in the range of 350,000, to date.
This is the fate Aly and AJ have to overcome. To do that they need to embrace the high school and college level audience. They began this transition by focusing on MTV with the release of Insomniatic, and by depending less on promotion from the Radio Disney family. This promotional push includes a starring role in a direct to DVD film based on MTV's reality series about outrageous coming of age birthdays, My Super Sweet 16.
But back to the music.
The leadoff single, Potential Breakup Song, is a slight departure from the sound of Aly and AJ's first album. It's much more techno pop than the guitar based pop rock on Into the Rush. It's also very catchy and has the potential to become an airplay hit. PBS has already become a sales hit, reaching number seven on the iTunes singles sales chart and top 5 on the iTunes pop chart.
But instead of sticking with the light pop of Potential Breakup Song, the Michalka sisters experiment with a variety of musical styles. Insomniatic's second track, Bullseye, is a grunge based rocker that hints strongly at the girls Seattle roots. It's also the best track on the album.
Other highlights include Closure, one of the many relationship songs, with also boasts one of my favorite rhyming couplets on the CD.
Blush is a quiet piano ballad that speaks to any of us that remember those early forays into teen dating. The whole "lust with boundaries" scenario. In an interesting twist on the theme, Aly encourages her outspoken boyfriend to state his desires, while reminding him what the boundaries are. Knowing that my mom would be listening to the CD, I don't think I could have written that song in high school.
The guitar riff in Insomniatic could have been written by Johnny Winters. It works well here and the title track is one of the best rockers on the CD.
I like the cd and I think Aly and AJ have a lot of potential. I hope they pull it off and take their music to the next level, we need more women in rock.
I'm going to look at Kelly Clarkson's My December next, but as a lead in to that post I thought I'd go back to Billboard.
In the Billboard article on Aly and AJ, the discussion of their musical growth comes up. AJ comments that the expansion of their sound, is "helping to push our career forward." At the same time Aly and AJ realize that they can't afford to alienate their current fan base. "It's important to not stray from our core," AJ says. "There is a fine line between being creative as artists and being respectful of fans. We take that fine line seriously." As much as I admire Kelly Clarkson's musical statement, this is clearly where she stumbled with her latest CD.
The Michalka sisters roll into Charlotte to play at Verizon Amphitheatre in August. Can they pull it off live? We'll let you know.