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Erin McCarley And The New Economy Of Pop

Erin McCarley has just released her debut album, Love, Save the Empty. But there's a good chance you've already heard one or two of her songs.

"Pony (It's OK)" has been played in prime time on Grey's Anatomy, One Tree Hil, Ghost Whisperer, Privileged and Kyle XY. The album's title song will play over the final scene of the Jennifer Aniston-Ben Affleck movie, He's Just Not That Into You, opening next month.

For someone releasing her rookie effort, McCarley clearly has captured something in the air — and is getting it on the air.

Essentially acoustic singer-songwriter material with elaborate choruses and arrangements, Love, Save The Empty is a gathering of songs about the stresses of romance: the exhaustion of infatuation, the excitement of passion and the left-drained-depressed-and-angry aftermath of breaking up.

Beyond her music, McCarley can stand as a representative of the new economics of the music business. In the year just ended, album sales were down 14 percent from 2007. At the same time, online downloads, usually of individual songs, rose 27 percent, with a little more than a billion songs downloaded.

With record companies downsizing and radio wavering as a place to break a hit, getting a song placed on a TV show or a commercial or a movie soundtrack is now a major way to kick-start a career. McCarley recorded this album in Nashville — that most commercial of music-industry cities. While she's making pop, not country music, it definitely has a polished sheen.

McCarley worked on this album for over two years. Though there's little here in terms of emotion or imagery that you haven't heard in her acknowledged influences, such as Alanis Morrisette or Fiona Apple or Aimee Mann, it's quality craftwork.

At her best, McCarley is making music for the masses in a way that avoids cheap cynicism. The question is whether music that can serve as the soundtrack to a poignant moment in a prime-time soap opera can also speak to you on some level. If so, McCarley — and you and I — have a place in the new economy of pop.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ken Tucker
Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.