For years it was rumored that Decaydance Records power-pop band Hey Monday were created as a launching pad for vocalist Cassadee Pope’s eventual solo career. True or not, that’s how things have played out, and it is hard to argue with the results. Cassadee Pope, her first release as a solo artist, heads in a more mainstream direction than her Hey Monday work without losing sight of what gave HM their undeniable appeal — easy melodies, big punchy hooks and straightforward, relatable lyrics.
Boisterous lead track “Original Love” is the obvious single; it also hews closest to the Hey Monday format. The drums in the verses are digital, and keys give color where a guitar lead might otherwise go. Yet, the explosive refrain (bolstered by a thumping backbeat courtesy of All Time Low drummer / Pope paramour Rian Dawson) rocks as hard as anything in the Hey Monday catalog. There is even a squealing (if brief) guitar solo thrown in for good measure. It is not clear what is so “original” about Pope’s love — it sure sounds a lot like the love everyone else on pop radio is singing about — but the heart-on-sleeve naiveté matches the giddy chorus’ tone perfectly.
If “Original Love” is the most single-worthy track here, “I Guess We’re Cool” is possibly the greatest song Pope has ever written, with a lurching gear-shift into a positively huge chorus that finds her reciting a litany of perceived shortcomings in her protagonist — “I can get moody when my hair’s a mess”; “I’m gonna ask all about your ex” — before concluding that “if you’re ok with that […] I guess we’re cool.” Except that it is clear from the ache in Pope’s voice that, deep down, things are not “cool,” Pope insinuates that it is not nearly enough to merely accept such superficial flaws, or at least that it shouldn’t be. The line, as Pope sings it, is a window into a heady confrontation between the needy cravings of damaged self-esteem and a nagging sense of deserving more, powerful forces at internal loggerheads. It is an alchemical bit of pop writing, a transformative morsel of phrasing and delivery that lards a seemingly-straightforward sentiment with massive hidden depth, and it is quite beyond anywhere Pope’s gone to date.