Chances are you didn't know Jesse McCartney released his first album in six years last week. If you did, you probably didn't care. Maybe you half-heartedly danced to "Leavin'" at a high school dance, but you certainly don't have any attachment to him. You're not alone in that – otherwise, In Technicolor wouldn't have only sold 7,846 copies in its first week.
That's not a typo. Remember that Robin Thicke's instantly notorious bomb Paula sold three times that number in its first week. McCartney's album is unquestionably a bomb – and that's a shame, because it's easily one of the best pop albums of the year.
McCartney is clearly taking his efforts to become a Serious Artist seriously, co-writing every song on the record. He's studied the elements that make neo-soul great and deployed them in artful, interesting ways. "Punch Drunk Recreation" is a sexy slice of fun, and single "Superbad" would have been a worthy selection for our Song of Summer. The whole album is danceable and delectable, and a real artistic statement for McCartney.
Yet the question becomes: Who is this album for? McCartney has aged out of one fanbase and never found another. He was a teen heartthrob in the Beautiful Soul/Summerland days, a lightweight bit of fluff to be enjoyed and forgotten. But McCartney wasn't going down without a fight. He showed new depth by co-writing the hit Leona Lewis song "Bleeding Love" and releasing his third album Departure. He wasn't a sensation, but he wasn't a teen flash in the pan, either.
After issues with his label, Hollywood Records, derailed his projected fourth album, he struck out on his own. In Technicolor is the first effort of his independent label, Eight0Eight Records. Such independence, mixed with his neo-soul sound and a still-gorgeous face, would seem to make him Justin Timberlake's successor in the making.
Unfortunately, McCartney isn't a Timberlake. He's not even a Thicke, really. His closest contemporary is probably his old Summerland co-star, Zac Efron, who is also struggling to figure out his next direction. The key differences: Unlike Efron, McCartney is a bit more sure of who he wants to be, but Efron still has a built-in audience.
A new fanbase is hard to build when your old one has disappeared and you're striking out on your own. McCartney deserves our attention and our money, but despite his best efforts, he may be staring down an impossible task.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.