Ashley Tisdale is quite the multi-faceted star. Actress, singer, producer, beauty guru…there’s many strings in her bow and while she’s better known for the drama queen Sharpay Evans in the High School Musical franchise, there is one side to Ms. Tisdale that is often overlooked and that’s her pop star side; very similar to other Disney veteran Hilary Duff.
The comparisons between the two are a little too alike to raise questions over. Their broad ranges of discography, albeit both quite small, are nonetheless still rather striking. Tisdale’s debut album, ‘Headstrong’ is best described by the Right Back At Ya! guys on their podcast as “most pop girls could only dream of having an album with these many bops” and they’re not wrong. She followed up with a pop-rock sophomore record, ‘Guilty Pleasures’ which contained all the angst a Disney star could get away with.
Now ten years later, she returns with ‘Symptoms’. The record was produced solely by John Feldmann & maintains a poppier/synthy vibe where Tisdale’s lyrics are the centre point. It opens on title track ‘Symptoms’, which alludes to insecurity in starting a new relationship and the anxiety that comes with it. Anxiety & mental health are themes throughout the record and whilst the tracks seem chirpy and electronic, they are layered with subtext and crippling fears. “You don’t see what I see / when I look in the mirror”, she alerts on ‘Looking Glass’, worried that hearsay and public speculation may shape her new beau’s opinion of her. “All of the demons / how do you keep them out?” she questions on the love-struck ‘Insomnia’, as she envisions her new romance with her beau.
Aside from the title track, ‘Voices in my Head’ serves as the standout track as Ashley fights the voices in her head putting her down & guiding down a dark path, and its the first time we hear Ashley get explicit…even though it is softly. The breakthrough with this track is her lover’s unwillingness to leave her, as much as the voices in her head may tell her he wants to. The second single ‘Love Me & Let Me Go’ misses the mark a little bit, because whilst 99% of the lyrics work, there is one lyric I can’t get my head around and that is “stop being so obsessed with me”…I don’t know if this is one of the voices in her head, creating a narrative that her beau is obsessed with her, as a counter way of ridding him from her, because the true narrative is that she’s insecure, & can’t believe someone would love her for her…or is it a kiss-off to an ex lover who simply won’t leave her alone?
Whilst the album seems to tackle the nitty gritty, there are two high-lifted moments in the form of ‘Vibrations’ and album closer, ‘Feeling So Good’. ‘Vibrations’ details a blossoming relationship that over a course of time has become wonderfully comfortable whereas not even her alarm bothers her in ‘Feeling So Good’. The track feels slightly cheesy as it’s the heightened level of happiness through a course of insecurity and anxiety, but it ties up the short album sweetly.
‘Symptoms’ is an artistic ideology, and for Ashley, who arguably doesn’t really have much of a musical identity due to lack of discography…it’s a nice expansion to her catalogue, and whilst its highs don’t quite equate to ‘Guilty Pleasures’, or ‘Headstrong’, its still a really sweet project and we can only hope that we don’t wait another ten years for another addition to her body of work. I suppose that’s where ‘Symptoms’ differs from her first two albums; it’s more cohesive and put together, whereas her first two albums have much more broad layers to them.
‘Symptoms’ is out now through Big Noise Group and is available to stream and download here.