America loves second chances. From Bill Clinton to Tiger Woods, the American public consciousness has openly embraced foibles, missteps and wrong turns. There’s an unconditional embrace for public mea culpas and any efforts by failed heroes to rebrand their former selves. In the music world, its no different. From Milli Vanilli to Miley Cyrus, George Michael to John Mayer, artists will spend calendar years trying to revamp their image.
Country singer Mindy McCready is no different. After vaulting into the national spotlight with “Guys Do It All The Time,” the Texas-bred beauty battled substance abuse and three suicide attempts. In the past two years, she’s been a fixture for the papparazzi after confessing to her on-again, off-again decade-long relationship with MLB pitcher Roger Clemens. As of 2009, McCready has been a regular cast member on Sober House with Dr. Drew, which airs on Vh1.
Her first album in seven years is I’m Still Here, a flagrant and brazen attempt to shed her skin and emerge from the wreckage of her past. Under the tutelage of neophyte producer Christopher Jak, McCready almost achieves a home-run. The disc starts off strong with the earnest mid-tempo nugget, “Wrong Again” There’s restraint and sincerity in her inflections and a warmness to the cadence. The song’s laid-back groove sets the stage for should-be single, “By Her Side,” a forlorn and nostalgic look back at a former flame. The Blu Sanders-Whitney Duncan co-write is a timeless and cathartic paean to a far-too familiar situation. Another splendid cut is the acoustic version of “I Want a Man,” in which sounds as vulnerable and distant as ever. For someone that’s experienced a lifetime of pain, the cut works quite well. The string-laden title track follows and while it’s far from a throwaway, it’s not exactly Billboard pay dirt either.
McCready tries again on “I Want To Love You,” but banal production suffocates the entire exercise, a trait that unfortunately is repeated throughout the duration of the disc. Even an attempt at Garth Brooks’ seminal hit “The Dance,” falls way short, as it relies excessively on a string machine and not nearly enough on McCready’s vocals. A more spartan production probably would have worked just fine, but in the end, this hiccup is forced to pass the buck.
As if she was cognizant of just how underwhelming the disc is, McCready offers an acoustic version of “By Her Side” and revamped versions of her two most famous singles, “Guys Do It All The Time,” and “Ten Thousand Angels.” Frankly, the versions don’t sound that different and their placement on here feels a bit confusing. Is this her attempt at revisiting former glories as if to prove that once upon a time she was a big deal? Is this supposed to be looked at as a Greatest Hits or a retrospective? Therein lies the problem with I’m Still Here. Everything about it feels forced, uncomfortable and distant. Aside from a select few tracks, nothing about the disc is worth coming back to or revisiting. The disc’s mettle shines in McCready’s strong-willed vocals and doses of earnest sentimentality.
If anything, I’m Still Here reminds the American consumer that McCready is still intent on singing and more than willing to fight for her reputation. The same can’t be said for Milli Vanilli.