Shelly Peiken | 2.0 etc… | (self-released)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars
You may not recognize Shelly Peiken’s name. But if you listen to pop music it’s almost impossible not to have heard one of the dozens of songs she penned or co-wrote. Those include the smash “Bitch” sung by Meredith Brooks (1997) and Christine Aguilera’s #1 hit “What a Girl Wants.” And that’s just for starters.
There are plenty other less recognizable tunes made famous by Mandy Moore, Brandy, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato…the list goes on. Although those and most others fall on the slick, commercial side, Peiken also wrote “Human” performed by The Pretenders (also called “Human on the Inside” when the Divinyls first cut it), showing her compositions can reflect a tougher edge depending on who is interpreting them.
After penning the Grammy nominated (for spoken word album) audiobook Confessions of a Serial Songwriter, Peiken realized that in the world of digital music, she needed new sources of income. The result is 2.0 etc…, her first solo set.
Not surprisingly, Peiken records tracks she had a hand in writing for others. So here are her versions of “Human,” (with guest Chrissie Hynde on backing vocals, although sweeter than either the Divinyls or Pretenders) “Bitch” (moodier than Brooks’ peppy single) and “What a Girl Wants” (stripped down and rawer than the hit) among others. Like Carole King who took a similar shot at some of the gems she churned out as a 60’s songwriter for hire on her Pearls collection, Peiken’s sound more personal and less geared towards hit radio. She takes “Almost Doesn’t Count” (that Brady scored with) and sings it over acoustic piano, infusing the tune with a King, or even Laura Nyro, feel.
Elsewhere “Stumble” and “Love is War” are also heavily piano based, the latter influenced by the stark strings that made “Eleanor Rigby” so memorable. Speaking of the Beatles, one of Peiken’s most impressive new tunes is “George & John.” It pays respect to those late Beatles (and Paul and Ringo too) by nicking lyrics and riffs from some of their work and crafting them into a ballad that’s loving and melancholy without being cloying. The chorus of “half of me is gone, just like George & John” brings personal reflection to the track.
Peiken doesn’t have a powerful voice, but it’s sweet, honest, low key and slots well into the decidedly less produced, more organic atmosphere that provides this set with its subtle charms. At eleven cuts that don’t break 40 minutes it’s on the short side, especially since she has contributed to so many songs, but it’s a promising start to the second part of Peiken’s career implied by the disc’s title. One in which she brings her talents from the supporting arena to center stage.