Famous for his 1996 single “Barely Breathing” and Tony Award-winning musical “Spring Awakening,” Duncan Sheik released his new album Whisper House on Tuesday Jan. 27. The album is named after a musical Sheik has waiting on hold and is compiled of the 10 songs created for it. Although the album obviously has a musical theater vibe, there are a good amount of songs that could, and will, hold their own in the regular music scene.
Sheik won commercial success with his single “Barely Breathing,” which spent 55 weeks on the Billboard’s Hot 100 list, but shortly after made a career-defining choice to move away from pop. In an interview with National Public Radio, Sheik describes how he didn’t really have a connection with other pop artists or the genre, which fueled his decision to change. He said, “So while on the one hand, I was like, musical theater wasn’t my wheelhouse either, at all — I was definitely ready to try something new, and different, and perhaps work in a different medium.” The shift proved to be a successful career move as well as a showcase for Sheik’s versatility. His ability to be a connector between the theater world and the mainstream is what allows him to create songs that are enjoyed whether the audience has seen the musical or not.
On the large playing field, Whisper House has a very light rock alternative feel. Individually the songs create a much larger spectrum, from the few that sound awkward without the musical, to those that are successful on their own. “It’s Better To Be Dead” lies on the theater side being much more of a ballad, but is still beautiful on its own and almost awakens the imagination to create the characters and scene that will eventually be performing it. It is also one of the many songs in which singer-songwriter Holly Brook plays a prominent role. Born in Mazomanie,Wis., she’s successful on her own, having songs played on several TV shows including “Conviction,” “Related” and “The Hills.” Although not present in every song, Brook adds a certain sparkle through her harmonies that would have left the album lacking in luster if she hadn’t been involved.
Far from the musical theater genre is “You’ve Really Gone and Done It Now,” which can easily be labeled the gem of the album. Brooks is also present on this track and harmonizes gracefully, but it is actually Sheik’s voice in the chorus that creates some kind of repeat-worthy magic. The lyrics of this track start to address listeners as future audiences, introducing characters. The musical will be based in a lighthouse, one of the main characters being a young boy. “You’ve Really Gone and Done it Now” specifically begins to introduce and intrigue listeners with lyrics like “You’re just a child and haven’t learned/ The world is cold, the world is rough/ You’re not strong, and you’re not tough/ Your moves were just not good enough.”
Duncan Sheik’s new album Whisper House is certainly not something typical in the music world of Britney Spears and Lil’ Wayne, but that might be a good thing. Although the music was created for a musical, it has freshness, a splash of something real, something not over-produced and auto-tuned. Even if musicals aren’t your thing, this album is worth a listen, if not only to cleanse your musical palette of all the computerized crap that has infiltrated the musical scene lately.
3 stars out of 5