When the inevitable anxiety of the sophomore album looms, many artists look to take the easy in-and-out route of creating something concise. Megan Burtt isn’t attempting that with her second full-length, The Bargain, however. Instead, the Denver-based songwriter is rolling the dice with a bold 14-track album that highlights a curiosity in genre-hopping. Like any dice roll, though, the results aren’t always what was hoped for.
The album begins with “Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” a strong opener with a lot of promise, both in its lyrics and sound. Burtt sings, “Holding out for perfect is a dream that’s hard to shake,” seemingly setting the aim of her ambitions for the 13 tracks that will follow this one. “In A Minute” is a cozy, acoustic-based song you might hear someone perform at a coffee shop open mic and think is pretty decent. After the mostly forgettable “Was It Love” comes the title track, “Bargain,” which restores some of the uptempo energy established in the earliest minutes of the album. Perhaps coincidentally, Burtt sings in the chorus, “I’ve got some life left in me.” That statement isn’t quite exemplified in “Hurricane,” a track that while occasionally powerful in its melody, still lacks the gusto of its namesake.
The halfway point of The Bargain is marked with the Nashville-tinted “Restless,” which seems to squirm with unrest within its production, almost aching to be unchained in a live setting. While “Restless” is aptly uncomfortable in its own sonic skin, piano ballad “Everybody” beams with perfect production. Reminiscent of Sara Bareilles, the track’s bittersweet strings and straightforward composition lend radio hit potential. Here, Burtt’s fearlessness for falsetto is at its best. While her voice lacks any kind of quirk that may make it more identifiable, it’s pure and pleasant in settings such as the one “Everybody” establishes. Still, Burtt struggles to stick to her strengths in the homestretch of the album between the nautical tropes of “Anchor” and the fairly anticlimactic “Spin.” Closer “In Your Skin” is not-so-subtle in its sultriness, slinking with bending guitar riffs and Burtt’s recurring, “I want you so bad.” It would probably be an odd note to end on, which is likely why the bare-bones earnestness of “Til I Get There” is included as a cool-down bonus track.
As a whole, The Bargain is a confusing collection of songs tied together without much consistency. Being that it is her sophomore album, it’s perfectly fine for Megan Burtt to be exploring genres—the problem is the only real instances of consistency come from recycled production tactics. Some songs proudly stand taller than the others, presenting elements unlike the tracks that surround them. Others, though, blend right into the hefty tracklist, compromised by their deja entendu instrumentation and pace. Burtt does at least prove she’s capable of crafting plenty of songs that flirt with a variety of genres, making it only a matter of time before she hones in on something tighter.