It's official. Megan Hilty has infiltrated mainstream media from all angles. After cleverly sneaking into the collective hearts of America by way of Broadway with roles in Wicked and 9 to 5, she has since cemented her place in television as well, most notably on NBC's Smash, where she stars as Ivy Lynn, an aspiring Broadway star. Now ready to branch out again, It Happens All the Time is Hilty's debut solo album, a mix of covers and new songs, out now from Sony Masterworks.
A near 50-50 split of new music alongside modern pop covers by the likes of Aimee Mann, Damien Rice, and Don Henley, It Happens All the Time is an album of ever-changing tone and mood. Though laden with lovers' lament lyricism, the album's presentation and mood vary greatly from track-to-track, and occasionally within individual songs as well.
"It Happens All the Time," the title track written by Glen Ballard and Lauren Pritchard, initiates the album with an ominous tone by way of its chilly, Egyptian-meets-Latin guitar and drum verses, which are ultimately shattered by a predictably peppy chorus. Though it's one of the strongest tracks on the album, it hardly fits in with the other thematically scattered tunes.
On Jimmy Hogarth and Wayne Hector's "No Cure," Hilty really flexes her alt-pop leanings by way of elegant harmonies layered over jangly guitar riffs and a lavish, cyclical chorus. "Walk Away," written by Luke Laird, Ne-Yo, and Carrie Underwood, is the first clear sign that Megan Hilty absolutely loves Aimee Mann, as she mimics her infamous inflections to a T in this new piece. The same can be said of track 8, where Hilty continues the Mann love with her cover of the alt-pop icon's "Wise Up."
Several of the melodies throughout It Happens All the Time are clearly designed to have Hilty riff away for the hell of it, but "Hopin'," written by Trevor Wesley, Francesca Richard, Kevin Ronnie McPherson, and A. C. Burrell, is guilty of the opposite offense. The album's most static number makes the bare minimum of use of Hilty's vocal talents as she fluctuates from neutral lows to swelling-to-moderate highs, resulting in a run-of-the-mill glittery pop tune.
The second half of It Happens All the Time is mostly covers, and a beguiling assortment of them at that. Hilty's rendition of Damien Rice's "The Blower's Daughter" features vastly superior production and voicing than the original version, but the downtrodden pacing and redundancy of the sleeper ballad make it a poor fit for Hilty's voice and style.
Her rendition of Don Henley's 1989 hit "The Heart of the Matter" is Hilty's most interesting transformation of a song. Hilty's version takes the glistening, reverb-heavy hooks that compressed all of the song's melancholy into soft-rock mush and translates them into a more human, love-swept affair that illustrates the highs and lows of betrayal and lovelorn forgiveness.
Seemingly out of left field, It Happens All the Time closes with a surprisingly intriguing cover of "Dare You to Move" by alternative Christian rock band Switchfoot, from their 2003 album The Beautiful Letdown. Hilty's take on the song is actually a much better fit than that of its creators. The song never really had enough momentum to qualify as rock, so a pop version ends up being strangely fitting and successful.
With It Happens All the Time, Hilty has stepped outside of the musical theatre niche and into the world of slightly dated alternative-pop music. Save for the logical head-games of trying to discern who chose the assortment of covers and why, the album suffers mostly from a lack of substance. It may not find a home in the charts, but Hilty's interesting interpretation of the pop sound of the early aughts serves as ample showcase to her versatility and adaptability within the world of pop music.
It Happens All the Time is out on March 12 from Sony Masterworks.