The debut album by A Fine Frenzy - really Alison Sudol, the red-head featured on the cover - follows, in many ways, the tradition of the soulful and slightly world-weary female singer-songwriter. The breathy vocals, the insistent piano, the boozy confessions; they're all here. Yet, it is such formulaic construction that prevents this album from being something truly original.
Not that it doesn't have its moments. One of the best tracks, "Almost Lover", might seem, on the first listen, to be one of those aforementioned formulaic songs. However, it becomes one of the most successful by virtue of Ms. Sudol's achingly sincere delivery. When she sings, "I never want to see you unhappy, I thought you’d want the same for me,” the listener forgets that the singer of this modern-day torch song is only twenty-two years old. Another high-point on the album is "Near to You", a song that has Sudol imploring her current lover to stay, even while she tries to get over a past one. "He and I had something beautiful but so dysfunctional it couldn't last" she sings, over an appropriately spare piano line. It is confessional, pleading, and heart-breaking.
Unfortunately, a few good tracks does not a great album make. One gets the feeling that some of these songs were actually meant to be the opening themes for a failed teen drama. In "Ashes and Wine", Sudol seems to be going out of her way to stitch as many bad-high-school-poetry clichés together as possible. "Think of You" has her singing “You don’t owe me anything, you paid me well in memories.” Even more unfortunate is that lines like this crop up in most of the songs on the album.
It can’t be denied that Ms. Sudol has a wonderful voice, a voice that, in her best songs, can be both vulnerable and passionate at the same time. One Cell in the Sea’s biggest fault, however, is that it tries too hard, sacrificing originality and emotion for well-trodden familiarity. - Claire Orpeza