Susan Boyle ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ – Album Review

Where secular meets sacred, Susan Boyle’s voice can be heard

For those who somehow managed to go through 2009 without once hearing the name of Susan Boyle, her debut album, “I Dreamed a Dream,” will probably not mean that much. Her diehard fans, though, will see it in an entirely different light, as the material comes to show that all these months they’ve spent on their toes, keeping their fingers crossed for the release date to come (November 23), were well worth it. “I Dreamed a Dream,” in many ways, stands as testament that Susan Boyle is one of the greatest voices of our times, even if seemingly completely isolated from the rest of the world, critics believe.

Susan Boyle, the 40-something woman from Scotland who, not long ago, had the “audacity” to present herself to auditions for Britain’s Got Talent, and then to get up on stage to stand in front of none other than Simon Cowell, is an “Angel” of music no matter how one looks at it. At the same time, she’s also the only example we have of what it’s like to swim against the current, proof that a well thought out machine like a the aforementioned televised talent competition can also factor in real talent, as opposed to just the qualities that it takes to make it as a star.

We know we live in a world where making music no longer means what it meant, say, two decades ago. Today, if we speak of a performer (a singer), we’re not necessarily speaking of an artist as well. Susan Boyle, the most astonishing underdog the music history has ever witnessed, is like a slap in the face of our pop culture because she proves the “average” can also be spectacular. Still, because she’s also a cog in the machine – whether we like it or not – her debut album is considered somewhat of a critical letdown because it relies solely on her voice and lacks the “hooks” that could make it popular with critics and non-fans.

Miss Boyle herself handpicked the 12 tracks that have made the cut on the finished album, as handwritten notes included in the sleeve explain. The notes also say why each song was chosen, which gives the album a very personal note, despite being a collection of covers (with the sole exception of “Who I Was Born to Be”). Intimate but not structurally complex, “I Dreamed a Dream” was perhaps not even imagined as a piece that would break the mold by adding who knows what touches to the originals included, but rather as an album that would help the singer get a foot through the door in the music industry.

This is not to say though that “I Dreamed a Dream” lacks anything else besides originality in terms of the tracks on it. Susan Boyle became an Internet phenomenon because of her strong, clear voice that would best fit a mental backdrop provided by a cathedral, so saying that she’s turning even the most upbeat originals into teary-eyed renditions is too much of a stretch – though countless music critics are doing it. Her voice and the undulations that stunned an entire world into silence are well put on display with each track on “I Dreamed a Dream.”

Yet, it’s the pop songs covers that somehow manage to make the most impact. “Wild Horses” of the Rolling Stones becomes, thanks to Boyle’s uber-sensibility, the ultimate declaration of love, the kind that is most powerful and convincing because it comes exclusively from the heart. The same lack of artifice is noted on Madonna’s “You’ll See,” which, from an anthem of revenge as it was initially meant, is now the quiet assertion of true talent, the victory of the misfit over the artificial.

The bottom line is that Susan Boyle has the kind of voice that makes her equally comfortable with real anthems and pop tracks, as “I Dreamed a Dream” proves. At the same time, her personal touch makes them all sound as little mainstream as imaginable, as she invests in them the purest emotion that is completely devoid of artifice. Susan Boyle’s voice rises and falls, pierces the heart, and not once comes even close to faltering or disappointing on the debut album – because of it, “I Dreamed a Dream” more than delivers.

The Good

“I Dreamed a Dream” is easily one of the most anticipated musical releases of 2009 and fans will be happy to hear that it does not disappoint. Susan Boyle might not be what we call an artist fit for our times, but that’s not to say that she doesn’t already have a place secured in our hearts. Her debut album reminds us all over again why we fell in love with her in the first place, while also making for a brilliant listen, just in time for the holidays.

The Bad

Critics were quick to say Susan Boyle’s “I Dream a Dream” validates the suspicion that she doesn’t have what it takes to last in the music industry without being crushed by its grinding wheels. Nevertheless, reproaching an artist for what she isn’t means ignoring her out of the ordinary merits, fans believe. Miss Boyle’s crystal clear voice is unlike any other – and more than compensates for the album’s lack of originality.

The Truth

“I Dreamed a Dream” is Susan Boyle’s debut album, and should only be judged in this context. Having a superstar who is over 45 years of age and is as unlikely a “celebrity” as it gets was unfathomable a few months ago. It’s only natural for Cowell to have Miss Boyle sing a bunch of covers for her first album, but all the while allowing her to have her say by choosing them. “I Dreamed a Dream” is a must listen not only because it comes in time for the winter holidays (and matches the tone of the season), but also because it proves that our music industry is not as without hope as we might have once believed, critics say. 

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