It’s easy to prejudge Lindsay Lohan’s debut as another profit-driven attempt to horizontally integrate a rising star. On the surface, it’s pretty much what you’d expect: album artwork that contrasts Lohan’s glamour (and cleavage) and realness (see the collage of candid personal photos) and lengthy production credits that require an elaborate six-asterisk attribution system. With Tommy Mottola acting as executive producer, Speak was recorded over a period of a few weeks; Lohan worked on roughly half the album’s songs from her trailer on the set of her upcoming film, Herbie: Full Loaded. And though it may be nicer to believe this is the album Lohan “always wanted to make,” it kind of reeks of being slapped together for the sake of making a quick buck, another mediocre offering from a dilettante.
As it turns out, the prejudices aren’t entirely fair; Speak is actually pretty listenable for what it is, and it does have a few pleasant surprises. For one, Lohan has a mature, assured singing voice, and most of the tracks are tight and catchy enough to compensate for being so derivative. And aside from some of the aforementioned photos accompanying the liner notes, Lohan does not prop her songs up on falsely autonomous, jailbait sex appeal. Sure, the lyrics emphasize being one-half of a couple a little too often, and there are a few double entendres (especially in opener “First”). But for the most part, Lohan establishes a responsible tone that navigates not-a-girl-not-yet-a-woman territory far more successfully than have some of her peers.
Lohan’s pop-rock sound is more akin to that of Avril Lavigne. Kara DioGuardi and John Shanks, who between the two of them have produced work for Kelly Clarkson, Michelle Branch, Sheryl Crow, Hilary Duff and Ashlee Simpson, get most of the production credit on the album, and the songs they co-wrote are the strongest. Sappy ballad “Symptoms of You” and unfortunate Britney Spears approximation “Rumors” are the biggest missteps here.
Is Lohan’s album different enough from what’s already out there to justify its existence? My precocious nine-year-old friend had the same concerns — she says she bought the album because she’d heard Lohan sing in her films and she wanted to “see if [Lohan] was copying other singers.” Her verdict is that Lohan does have a place — her album “is a little more rock than Hilary Duff and just as much rock as Avril Lavigne, but [unlike Lavigne], not all of her songs are sad.” She also thinks the lyrics are “really smart” and that the album is mature, not for “littler kids.” And really, her opinion matters much more than mine does.