The year is 2011 and I’ve just graduated college. Jobless and no less depressed, I was forced to move back in my father’s house, holed up in the tiny side bedroom. Not much has changed, but back then there was still a sliver of optimism most likely fueled by the onslaught of mania. Bipolar disorder is a bitch.
During this time of desolation, there was thing that always saved me: music. I was a self-taught drummer and guitarist, not the best but enough to impress. There’s nothing more relaxing that practicing scales on the acoustic to the audience of myself. But that’s besides the point. It was during this time that I was looking for any for spiritual uplift. The Red Hot Chill Pepper’s double album magnum opus Stadium Arcadium usually did the trick. But that album had been played dry, and the hunger for a new sound was ever present.
This was the time I also started leaning to pop-oriented female singers. Growing up on a steady diet of classic rock left a sour taste in my mouth when it came to men.
Anyway, late one night, flipping through TV stations, I stumbled upon the Grammy broadcast. I’m not one to watch this type of stuff, but what caught my attention was the announcement of a new song by the one and only Dr. Dre (which unfortunately led me to believe he was finally releasing Detox).
Take a look:
First off, ignore the Adam Levine and Rhianna duet, which is completely off key and sloppy (still a great song though). The real meat of the video is the “I Need a Doctor” portion which was mean to be the comeback of Dr. Dre (again, I really wished it meant the release of Detox). As Rhianna butchers the chorus of “I Love the Way You Lie”, Eminem comes to the rescue. The song ends. Cue the fade to black.
Then the voice cuts through the silence. Maybe some will find it unremarkable, but there was something haunting as her voice strained against the high notes for dramatic effect. It was a voice I would immediately attach to, one that I go back to year after year.
As for the performance itself, it’s definitely quite something. Most rappers when live tend to disappoint, but Eminem, whatever you think of him, has such a commanding flow and sense of urgency that it’s impossible not to get wrapped up in it. Dr. Dre isn’t that bad either.
Naturally, after the performance I looked up the song and found out the name of the voice: Skylar Grey. There wasn’t much information about her, only that she had released an album in 2006 under her real name Holly Brook and that she was working with the producer Alex da Kid.
It would take me another five years to actually listen to that album, thanks to the streaming service Tidal (yes, I know Spotify has been around since forever). During that time she also released a second album under her pseudonym Skylar Grey. That one’s on Tidal too.
Coming back to her Grammy performance recently, I listened to both albums, and while it’s undeniable that Grey can write a hook or two (she helped pen the song “Love the Way You Lie” if you need proof), there’s the inevitable letdown. Her voice doesn’t nearly have the same sting of that Grammy performance, perhaps because the songs she penned aren’t built for it. This isn’t to say they’re not good, they’re just kind of bland.
Immediately on listening to this album, it is evident that this was definitely a tamer set of songs, more chill and safe. The album is in the vein of Sarah McLachlan, not a bad thing in itself but definitely not what I was expecting.
My first time through the album, I found myself bored and slightly annoyed. These songs didn’t sound bad, they were just kind of blah. The album is littered with piano ballads and simple guitar sung folkish alt-rock songs. FYI, I de-favorited this album after listening to it on Tidal.
Funny thing happened though. While listening to Beck’s One Foot on a Grave one of Brook’s tracks popped back up on the endless loop of songs that play on my recently played list. And sure as shit, every day her music kept reappearing in my eardrums, reminding of how sweet and angelic her voice was, as if my own hurtful thoughts towards this little gem of an album were misguided in their interpretation.
I’ll be honest, the little album that could grew on me, and tho she still has room to grow, her soft and sweet voice has infiltrated my imagination, reminding that despite all the odds, this is the one I return to.
I give it 3 stars, for reminding me soft rock still exists, even if it is of the bland variety.