Introduction

First introduced to the world on the Broadway stage, Lea Michele became musical theatre royalty with her breakthrough turn in Spring Awakening in . She was introduced to wider audiences, myself included, for her performance as Rachel Berry in the hit TV drama Glee, in which she starred from its premier in 2009 until it ended in 2015. She also starred in the short lived Scream Queens TV show. While a successful actress in her own right, her voice has always been her biggest asset. Her debut album, Louder, was released in 2014. Now her sophomore effort, Places, is out and it’s time to hear her fantastic voice once more.

1. Love is Alive

Starting the album off with a piano driven ballad is a risky move for most pop albums, but for Lea Michele this is a natural love. Her vocals are the highlight of the record as she belts out a melancholy song about still loving after loss. The pianos and strings together create a beautiful song that tugs the heart strings. The drums coming in at the end is a huge assist for the build that is a nice touch. It’s a wonderful start for an album that’s sure to feature more vocals like this.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

2. Heavy Love

An immediate tone change comes with a more pop-y song that uses the strings and drums to create a song about wanting more love from a partner. While still written in a minor key, it’s more jovial than the previous inspiration. This sounds more traditionally pop but still differentiates itself enough from the rest of the pop songs to separate itself from the rest. It’s a solid track that features really solid vocals from Michele.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A-

3. Proud

Once again utilizing pianos for another ballad, Michele sounds more hopeful in her voice and the song’s message reflects that. Her vocals are put front and center in this piece. Using strings and drums again, the build comes purely from them. It has a sort of Madonna-esqe 80s sound. It’s a really nice track for an album that’s very centered on her vocals.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A

4. Believer

Immediately different from the start, a more themeatic piece emerges with synths and a chorus backing her inspirational vocals. This song blatantly separates itself by being noticeably more hopeful and inspirational, not just in lyrics or vocals, but in production. With vocals like Celeine Dion, Michele tames a track that is more pop and a more fun and hopeful song that the melancholy ones of previous. It’s her “Fight Song”.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

5. Run to You

And now we return to the minor key pianos and morose, gray tones. The backing track may be gray, but her vocals are blue and her subject matter are a gentle purple. Telling a lover about her confidence and trust in them. Her vocals really shines through and are core-shaking. The piano and strings-based instrumental backing her reflects this really sweet love song. This song is the first of the album to feature some guitars; the electric guitars give it a rock feel and add some serious emotion to the song.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A+

6. Heavenly

This R&B song is a really beautiful song about falling in love. The vocals are great and the acoustic guitars help the song along very nicely. It’s a pretty song that is amazing. Her vocals are wonderful and the lyricism is heavenly, pun intended.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

7. Anything’s Possible

The vocals and pianos together are just the beginning to what is already a very different song. A more fast-paced hopeful song about starting over is what they produce. This energetic ballad about the future is pure bliss. It truly inspires and makes the soul soar. This a Lea Michele that is more similar to “Don’t Rain on My Parade” Rachel Berry. It’s inspirational and uplifting.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

8. Getaway Car

The song starts with her trademark piano ballad start. Painting a picture of youthful friendship and is, while nostalgic, is melancholy as well. It’s a story song that is really pretty and nice. It’s pretty barebones production-wise, but that’s the best type to highlight Michele’s powerhouse vocals.

Track Rating: 8/10

Grade: A-

9. Sentimental Memories

A more openly sentimental song, opening with nicely produced pianos, Michele’s vocals create a neat love song that sounds more pop than the previous songs. It’s not quite “Believer” level peppy, however, as it’s quite morose and melancholy in every way. The drum builds and chorus are more pop, but it’s a beautiful song about loss and heartache.

Track Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

10. Tornado

Opening with only vocals, the piano and strings follow closely behind her as she moves faster than she has in previous pieces. Her vocals are incredibly strong on this song and tops “Believer” as her anthem song. It’s truly her “Fight Song”. It’s an uplifting anthem about perseverance and persistence that transcends the album it’s on. It’s got the best vocals of the album on this record.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

11. Hey You

The finale of her album serves more as an epilogue to the emotional climax of “Tornado”. Written in a major key for once, it’s a beautiful song about reconnection that feels a lot happier and joyful than the darker, emotional journey we travel on with Lea Michele throughout the album. The pianos and acoustic guitars pair together for this song about moving on from a relationship that was special. It’s a really pretty song that evokes tears and sad emotions with Lea’s wonderful performance. It might just be my favorite song of the album.

Track Rating: 10/10

Grade: A+

Conclusion:

Lea’s vocals are some of the best of all time. Her pop vocals are intense and stir the heart strings in a ways most pop stars cannot. Unlike most pop albums, Places tells a story in a very different way. It follows an emotional experience of going through a break up and loss and emerging again with strength and hope from a dark place. The stages of grief are evident in the project that really is unprecedented in modern pop music. If she doesn’t not receive a Grammy nomination (and win) for Best Pop Vocal Album, I will be sorely disappointed. It’s a wonderful piece of music and treasured gem in a year of competitive pop music.

Album Rating: 9/10

Grade: A

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