Vanessa Carlton

Heroes & Thieves (The INC/Universal)

Irv Gotti, the mastermind behind the infectiously nettlesome Ja Rule and Ashanti, now counts piano-playing chanteuse Vanessa Carlton as part of his talent stable. But judging from the saccharine pop clichés on her new album, it appears he had very little to say as executive producer. The input you do hear is from the supernaturally gifted Linda Perry, who produces two tracks, “Spring Street” and “This Time,” and Third Eye Blind goofball Stephan Jenkins (also Carlton's ex-boo), who not only co-executive-produces, but plays some percussion. A boss willing to shake maracas: We should all be so lucky.

If Carlton had refurbished her earnest tales of love and life into boom-bap pop-hop, it'd be pretty easy to find fault with that as well. She is talented, no question, with a pretty if unremarkable voice and a knack for writing soft pop that allows her tinkling ivories to shine front and center. But lines such as “Take away my record deal/Go on, I don't need it” ring forced, defensive, and unbelievable on the lead single, “Nolita Fairytale.” And when she coos about “flippin' through the radio” and singing along to the “indie show” on “The One” (a duet with the venerable Stevie Nicks), you can't help but wish Carlton actually had tuned in instead of devouring Bruce Hornsby songs. At least if she had been encouraged to cut her sugar pop with a little of Gotti's urban magic dust, the results, for better or for worse, would have been more interesting.

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