Katharine McPhee’s “Hysteria” Explores New and Old Territory

Serena Hope Hohenstein ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Web Editor

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American Idol season five runner-up and star of TV’s Smash and Scorpion, Katharine McPhee has released her fourth studio album, five years after her most recent, Unbroken. Hysteria takes on a whole new genre of music for McPhee that is pleasing for potential new fans, as well as the diehard members of the Kat Pack. McPhee brings in elements of her previous albums, including powerful ballads consisting of only piano and strings, with R&B influenced vocals. She adds new elements, too, like techno and dance beats, previously unheard of in McPhee’s music. Overall, there’s something for everyone on Hysteria. Below is a breakdown of the tracks:

“Hysteria”
Grade: B+
Best Lyric: “When we collide, everything wrong is right.”
The album begins with a very cool and simple percussion instrumental, but quickly moves into a
techno and dance feel. The melody is sexy, for sure, with the harmonies and grounded 4/4 time.
Plus, the instrumental in the bridge has a cool funk vibe.

“Feather”
Grade: B
Best lyric: “I don’t care if I get hit with a cold rain; I let it flow like champagne.”
A beautiful acoustic guitar riff kicks off this track, but a heavy beat kicks in and the vibe is similar to that of OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars.” Another new venture for McPhee is the use of techno effects on her voice. It’s different and slightly jarring at first, but definitely not a bad thing!

“Burn”
Grade: A
Best Lyric: “‘Cause I found Hell in Paradise.”
The first thing the listener may notice about “Burn” is its use of strings building up in the beginning of the song. It really sets the mood, sounding almost like a song in a superhero movie. There is a ‘90s feel, but a very accessible one for contemporary audiences. The highlight of this track, though, is the audio thunderstorm that occurs in the bridge. Thunder crashes, rain hits pavement, and lightning strikes. Seriously, this song is worth listening to for the thunderstorm alone. It’s an incredibly dynamic and smart song by Ms. McPhee.

“Stranger Than Fiction”
Grade: A-
Best Lyric: “It took the darkest day to realize that the sun will set, but not slip away.”
This is McPhee’s self-empowerment anthem of the album. With poignant lyrics and a happy, optimistic theme, there’s no doubt why this was one of Katharine’s first singles off of Hysteria. This track would be a wonderful travel song, and could be used in a movie or TV trailer in the near future.

“Lick My Lips”
Grade: B+
Best Lyric: “When we kiss I just wanna savor every drop of it.”
This was the first song released off of Hysteria, and the first to have a music video. It’s a fun and flirty track by McPhee that takes listeners back to the sound off of her first album, specifically “Love Story.” Overall, “Lick My Lips” is a great summer song and features those classic riffs and high notes typical for Katharine.

“Break”
Grade: B+
Best Lyric: “The heart fills with the things it loves, but my hole is filled with us.”
If you’re a fan of the style of songs on McPhee’s album Unbroken, this track will appeal to you. This is McPhee’s break-up and moving on song. It’s ethereal and has cool reverb on the drums. You’ll definitely want to grab some ice cream and tissues if you’re going through a break-up while listening to this song.

“Appetite”
Grade: A-
Best Lyric: “Send your sugar straight into my veins. I crave you all the time.”
First and foremost, this song is sexy. If it would have been released earlier, it would have fit perfectly on the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack. The vocals float and are somewhat teasing. The instrumentation is at its best during the bridge, when the synths and guitars play a sultry riff.

“Love Strikes”
Grade: A+
Best Lyric: “But my hands trace love hearts around you and what you see is how my colors scream that love is striking me.”
This may be the strongest track on Hysteria. There are no techno elements, just McPhee, a piano and some strings. It’s stunning. “Love Strikes” shines a spotlight on the powerhouse that is Katharine McPhee. The lyrics and vocals are honest, vulnerable, and absolutely beautiful.

“Round Your Little Finger”
Grade: B
Best Lyric: “And you were meant for me, my twin melody.”
This is another simple song with only piano, strings, and vocals. It’s a beautiful love song in which McPhee’s strong voice shines, but it’s lacking the vulnerability that “Love Strikes” possesses.

“Only One”
Grade: B
Best Lyric: “Hanging low in the cold afterglow of goodbye…”
Fans of McPhee’s debut album will enjoy this fun pop/R&B track (Think “Dangerous”). It’s a bit repetitive, but has great guitars.

“Damage Control”
Grade: B-
Best Lyric: “I can’t erase all the shame that I placed on myself.”
This may be the most techno-heavy track of all of Hysteria. It’s busy with constant sound, but the lyrics and sentiment of the song are meaningful, and Katharine gets to belt her heart out.

“Don’t Need Love”
Grade: A-
Best Lyric: “Kiss me, get the red lights flashing. Start a riot with your tongue.”
This track opens with a cool piano, then it gets grimy (in the best way, of course). It’s all about lust in the final song on Hysteria. Unlike “Damage Control,” “Don’t Need Love” makes use of space. Almost all instruments drop out at times, leaving McPhee’s voice alone. This tactic creates dynamic range and forces listeners to focus on the vocals, rather than have their attention scattered between Katharine’s voice, the electronic instruments, and so on. Additionally, there’s an incredible operatic soprano background vocal that adds immense drama. And then, to cap it off, there’s a phone call, apparently a popular element in pop music nowadays (as in Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” and Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”).

Album Grade: B+

Katharine McPhee’s Hysteria is available now in stores and for download.

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