In her first solo album since 2004’s Original Soul – released one year prior to forming the Nocturnals – Grace Potter takes a sharp change in course from the blues-based rock that had defined her sound for the last decade. Synthesizers and dancehall beats dominate, with guitars, organ, and her Americana roots relegated to the background.
Midnight, produced by Eric Valentine and featuring a stable of talented session musicians, is every bit as slick as any album on the Top 40. Valentine’s production coats the mix in a sheen that seems at odds with Potter’s soulful, husky voice. The album begins with “Hot to the Touch,” a hook-laden dance pop number whose infectious beats help obscure uninspired lyrics.
Though the rootsy rock of the Nocturnals isn’t the focus here, Potter doesn’t completely abandon it. The verses of “Alive Tonight,” for example, have a blues groove that would have fit nicely on either of the Nocturnals’ last two albums, though in the chorus that groove is overpowered by a sea of synthesizers.
Throughout Midnight, Potter seems to be enjoying a romp through her favorite pop clichés, whether it’s the awkward love triangle of “Your Girl” told as a dance funk number or the bad metaphors in “The Miner” (“I feel you mining in my bones/ I feel you digging in my soul”) told as slow jam.
Though musically and lyrically not as impressive as her previous work, Potter’s vocals remain strong. Often subdued, her voice carries a weight not typically found in Top 40 pop. “Delirious” is one of the few experimental songs, featuring various influences and tempo shifts. In the song’s climax Potter lets it rip, belting out a powerful scream that duels a wailing guitar solo. The following song, “Look What You’ve Become,” has Midnight’s best riff, a crunchy guitar line that gives added heft to its theme of perseverance.
After an album full of bombastic, overproduced pop, it’s not surprising that Midnight’s best song is its quietest one, the album-closer “Let You Go.” The soft piano ballad finds Potter at her most vulnerable, her voice pained as she sings of ending a relationship. “Now I find, with the passing of time/ I’ll be alright with only the memories that you gave to me,” she sings.
Fans of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals who were upset with how pop influences crept into the band’s last couple albums will despise Midnight. However, it’s not fair to compare this album with those done by Potter’s full band. This isn’t a Nocturnals album and there are no indications that this is the next evolution in Potter’s career. Time will be the ultimate judge, but for now Midnight seems like a brief foray into the fun yet shallow pop world that has fascinated Potter but never seemed like a fit with the Nocturnals. Compared to the Nocturnals, Potter’s solo effort is disappointing kitsch devoid of emotional resonance. Compared to pop contemporaries, Midnight is highly danceable fusion of influences that will have some of the strongest vocals and smartest compositions on the dance floor.