There are two kinds of critic-proof kids' music albums.
The first kind are albums from, say, Barney or the Wiggles or Baby Einstein. Setting aside whatever you (or, more importantly, I) think of the artistic merits of their music (and it's not necessarily what you think), clearly critical opinion won't move the sales meter one iota, up or down. (Note: I'd love to see what Oprah would do with kids' music, though.)
The second kind is an album such as this one, Road Trip, the second album from the Boston-area group Girl Authority, released earlier this week.
Now, seeing as their first album has reportedly sold more than 100,000 albums -- if not High School Musical-type sales, certainly more than enough to hold their own with the Dan Zanes and Laurie Berkners of the world -- there's something of the first kind of critic-proof-ness in here. But the bigger reason this album is critic-proof is this:
Your kids can -- and do -- buy this album.
Listen, if every parent who claims to be sick of the Wiggles just stopped buying their CDs, their sales would drop dramatically. Why? Because 3-year-olds aren't walking into their local Target, plunking down their credit card, and buying the latest CD.
This album, however, isn't targeted at you (or me). It's targeted at your 9-year-old daughter. Who, while she probably doesn't have a credit card (unless you've got a waaay different approach to parenting than I have), does probably have an allowance and could pick this up at the mall or ask you to get it the next time you order something online. And, let's face it, you're probably not going to listen to the CD very much as she'll listen to it in her room or with headphones on.
Still, you (or some well-meaning relative) might be interested in knowing, well, is it any good?
And the answer is, uh, mostly. The positives here are that the 9 girls (ages 9 through 14) who make up the group are good singers -- at least a couple are really good (singers on each track aren't specifically identified). In other words, this isn't KidzBop chorus-shouting. And on the flip side, there's really not any overemoting going on.
Of the 19 tracks, 5 are originals, and none of those are bad. Oddly enough, it's not the Vince Clarke track ("Let's Get Together," on which he "borrows" his "Just Can't Get Enough" keyboard line) or the Tanya Donelly track ("This Is My Day") that's particularly memorable -- I preferred "Rhythm of the World," which has a Latin-pop feel. And some of the covers are pretty good -- "Reach" and "Shine" (from Cyndi Lauper) are a good fit for the group. And unlike the KidzBop series, there's very little that a parent would complain about lyrically here?
On the other hand, does the world really need another cover of "Life is a Highway" or Madonna's "Holiday"? They're perfectly fine covers, but they hew closely to the original -- why listen to their version of the Go-Go's "Vacation" when the original works so well? (And I'm surprised to think that kids born in, say, 1998 might want to hear, let alone sing, "Car Wash" or Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop," but kids can always surprise us.)
I also can't say that I'm that enthused about the personas adopted by the group -- the identities ("Glamour Girl" or "Party Girl") seem more closely associated with looks or shopping. Where's "Environment Girl" or, well, "Authority Girl?" I know that those are strange dreams to expect 10-year-olds to have (or to adopt as their "identity" in a pop album), but as a parent of a daughter who's rapidly approaching this group's target audience, I guess those things matter to me.
I'm going to peg the target audience here at girls ages 7 through 13. (Strictly based on the music, boys might find it tolerable if their sister has control of the car radio on a, er, road trip, but they won't pick it up of their own accord.) You can hear clips of the CD at any major e-tailer or the group's website.
While I've pointed out a few downsides here, Road Trip is a far sight better than what 9-year-old girls could be listening to these days. You probably won't hear much of this CD, but if it's on when you go into their room, maybe you can dig out your old Belly CDs and share with them a Tanya Donelly song that really rocks.