You have to believe that Blake Shelton, and indeed the entire franchise of The Voice, have to be pinning a lot of hope on Season 3 winner Cassadee Pope as their first possible charting success story. Her debut album Frame By Frame is certainly well crafted, well produced and well written (with a combination of Pope co-writes and contributions from numerous music industry A-list songsmiths). It also certainly demonstrates that she has the vocal performance chops to do it. The gnawing question is: is it enough?
Let’s start with the good stuff. It seems like Pope was destined to jump with both feet into the country genre ever since her rendition of Blake and Miranda’s hit “Over You” captivated The Voice’s television audience. Indeed, this is a cloak she wears well. Granted, she lets some of her previous pop-rock influences blend in, but that crossover is not only to be expected, but the market has proven it can sell. (More on that in a moment.) Most of the tunes on Frame By Frame are radio-friendly (although the album has already put its best foot forward with lead single “Wasting All These Tears”). There are plenty of hooks, along with some standout lyrical content (like “11”, a moving tale of divorce from the child’s point of view, and “Easier To Lie,” an intriguing, guilt-ridden combination love song and confessional). And Pope demonstrates with every vocal performance that she certainly deserved to win a national talent show focusing on vocal ability; she’s spot-on all the way through.
So what’s the problem? Honestly, a lot of it is context. Let me explain.
As I alluded to before, Cassadee Pope had a history in pop/rock, as the lead vocalist for a band called Hey Monday, before ever coming to The Voice. Predictably, those pop sensibilities come into play quite a bit in this album, and even though it plays well, it unfortunately has already drawn way too many comparisons with other female country-pop crossovers. Do a Google search on this album, and you’ll be amazed at how many comparisons reviewers are already making with the likes of Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift. In fact, Pope actually adds her own fuel to this fire; there are numerous points on Frame By Frame where her vocal riffs are reminiscent of Underwood’s (though perhaps not quite as dramatic), and the closing track “Proved You Wrong” could have just as easily been written by Swift as one of her stick-it-to-my-ex-boyfriend songs.
The upshot: while Swift and Underwood are great company to be in, they also cast a huge shadow. While these comparisons might help sell a few more records on the front end, ultimately it means that Cassadee Pope has to compete on an incredible level in order to stand out from that shadow for the long term—and unfortunately, there’s just not enough on this album to accomplish that. It’s great music, it’s a pleasant listen, but all Pope has really proven here is that she can do it like everyone else does it; she doesn’t really give fans a reason to remember her on her own merits. (Why should they buy a record by someone who can sort of sound like Underwood and Swift, when they could just by a record by Taylor Swift or Carrie Underwood?)
To be clear, Frame By Frame is a fine debut by a talented artist who can certainly hold her own in the country venue. It deserves to be heard, and it might even be enough to make Pope the first charting artist to emerge from The Voice. But if she is to find longevity in the music market, on future projects, Cassadee Pope will have to do a bit more to find her own voice—to find a way to stand out from the crowd.