Demi Lovato admitted herself to Billboard that 2011’s Unbroken “wasn’t [her] favorite album”, and her resonating pride in Demi—released Tuesday—certainly shows.
This time around, Lovato’s record is more Kelly Clarkson than Rihanna, and pop-rock is without a doubt her wheelhouse. The album itself is, in a word, slick—almost overly so, at times. Demi is a solid offering (Lovato’s best yet by a mile), definitely ushering the X Factor darling out of the territory of disposable Disney-record sounds. In promoting Demi, Lovato’s said the R&B leanings of her last album, while experimental, didn’t necessarily help her communicate who she is as a singer or artist, and her involvement and attempt to initiate a more mature (at times) and thought-out sound with this album and its songs are obvious.
“Heart Attack” is undoubtedly the album’s strongest song, from the ground up, and there’s a reason for that. Aside from being the lead single, it fits Lovato’s sound, her style—it’s evocative of her supersingle “Give Your Heart A Break”, and just seems to fit the type of record that radio’s ready for her to make. “Heart Attack” is a quirky cocktail of age-appropriate colloquialisms, deceptively simple-sounding melismas, and just plain pop genius. (Unfortunately, it’s also the first song on the record—a high bar to set.)
Lovato’s balladry on Demi is a bit on the blurry side in the wake of Unbroken‘s standout “Skyscraper”. She’s a terrific singer, but Demi‘s lyrics occasionally wax wince-worthy along the way, and the potential for a truly remarkable down-tempo number is somewhat lost in the album’s hefty serving of heavy heartbreak subject matter: “Two Pieces”, “Nightingale”, and “In Case” are all placed back-to-back-to-back on the record, making for a very long twelve minutes that doesn’t let any of the three slow jams shine as brightly as they might, given their own space.
That isn’t to say Demi’s midsection doesn’t have its moments. “In Case” is a solid exercise in vocal acrobatics, Lovato’s whisper-thin falsetto trading blows with her breathtaking belt. It packs some truly raw emotion, which will be Lovato’s real ace once she learns how to bring it home every time.
“Shouldn’t Come Back” sheds much of the album’s unnecessarily complex vocal layering and processing—rest assured, Lovato’s voice needs no electronic assistance to shine (her VEVO Presents acoustic mini-concert special is proof of that, if you’re a Disney doubter)—and gives a glimpse at what may be yet to come from the truly talented Lovato.
Lovato boasts songwriting credits on 10 of the album’s 13 tracks—no small feat, for a 20-something pop singer, and certainly not to be shrugged off. However, the majority of the obstacles Demi faces are found in the material. Lovato’s voice manages to simultaneously soar and sink comfortably into each stylistic niche demanded of the genre-flexible track list, which bodes well for her versatility as an artist and her ability to adapt to an ever-changing radioscape, but there’s a degree of authenticity (and engagement with the audience) lost somewhere between the recording studio and the record—the difference in a Taylor Swift smash and a Jordin Sparks cut. (The intentionally cheeky “Something That We’re Not”, which I highlighted in this week’s Aural Fixation, evades this misstep and takes the record, however briefly, into Katy Perry pop-smash-potential territory.)
The far-reaching “Never Been Hurt” is possibly my favorite moment on Demi. Its sound is just dark enough to give Lovato the room to let her full-voiced, Kelly Clarkson-esque inheritance shine its brightest, but the track is still fun enough not to mire Lovato in too-tragic territory. Singing down dubstep scales like they’re guitar riffs at a concert, Lovato launches into the final chorus with a staggering multi-octave vocal stack, catapulting the song to a truly satisfying conclusion in a display of what makes her a force to be reckoned with on a record. More than anything: it’s interesting.
After a very public couple of years in the spotlight, Lovato delivers an album that’s flighty but focused. To her credit, Lovato and her voice are the real stars here, and it’s not hard at all to imagine her razor-sharp determination driving her to great heights a record or two from now. Demi‘s young-20-something sound still places the emphasis on “young” (she is, after all, only 20), but don’t count Lovato out just yet—she’s smart, talented, and just getting started.
You can listen to Demi in its entirety on Spotify. The album is available now on iTunes and Amazon.
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