album reviews

Aly & AJ
Hollywood Records (2007)
Corbin Bleu
Another Side
Hollywood Records (2007)

Sisters Aly and AJ Michalka are at such an awkward age: the teen actors/singers/models, now 18 and 16, respectively, are caught trying to maintain their sugary-sweet image among a fan base that is rapidly outgrowing such childish things. Launched into a multidimensional marketing campaign a la the Olsen twins, Aly & AJ have recently found themselves on Honey-Comb cereal boxes and starring in the MTV-to-DVD film "Super Sweet 16" (based on the network's reality series), with video games, dolls and jewelry products soon to come.

The girls have also delved into music, and "Insomniatic," the follow-up to their shimmery 2005 debut, shows clear signs of those growing pains. They are listed as co-writers on every song -- and Aly even contributes piano and Rhodes to a handful of tracks -- and as a result, the lyrics sound alternately like sappy love letters ("Bullseye") or angsty journal entries ("Like It or Leave It," "Closure"). Despite their obsession with relationships, "Potential Breakup Song" sounds like a youthful version of Gwen Stefani's "What You Waiting For?," and that expansion into a more dance-oriented sound may help them hang on to some of their maturing fans yet.

Like the Michalka sisters, Corbin Bleu started with acting first, with roles in the Discovery Kids series "Flight 29 Down" and, most notably, as Chad in "High School Musical." His debut album is an R&B affair that makes this Justin Guarini look-alike sound like Justin Timberlake Jr.; the overprocessed "Deal With It" and the creepily voyeuristic "Homework" (think: "Every Breath You Take" in the high school halls) do little to show that Bleu has any aptitude beyond the TV screen.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 3 August 2007, Page WE06
.: Items mentioned above on Insomniatic (Aly & AJ, 2007); Another Side (Corbin Bleu, 2007).