Saturday, May 26, 2018

Revival (2015)

Disclaimer: These days I subscribe to a streaming service and often miss out on formerly one of my favorite things about albums, the cover art. I wanted to write about recovering child star Selena Gomez for reasons not related to the cover, I promise you—or at least not directly related, because I didn't know it. The image does fit with her in-construction persona, as sexy but vulnerable, knowing but naïve, bold but tentative, child in a woman's body, all that. I did know her role in Spring Breakers, as the good Christian girl yearning to be free and terrified at the same time of her own impulses, an awkwardly fascinating turn which also fits. And then I liked her song "Same Old Love," her biggest hit yet with "Good for You" (also on Revival). I've noted divergence about "best" Selena Gomez songs (among those who even deem it worth considering)—preferences for "Bad Liar," or her collaboration with Kygo, "It Ain't Me," or others. But I liked the achy exasperation and soulful strutting of "Same Old Love." She's fed up and so committed to it she allows herself a little swear word. That led me sideways to the album, by which time I was ready for some of the testy touchy prizes, such as they are, "Sober" and the two "Me &" songs. "Sober" takes dead aim at the persona and hits the mark square. "You don't know how to love me when you're sober," she heaves up (followed immediately by a Girl Scout troop shouting "Hey!"). She goes on, "I know I should leave, I know I should, should, should / But your love's too good, your love's too good, good, good."

It's probably worth noting that Gomez only receives partial songwriting credit on some of these songs. This is an album by other songwriters, and by various production teams too. "Sober" is the only song here by Chloe Angelides, who has also written for Jason Derulo, Ciara, and others. The Norwegian production team Stargate worked on that one. The Swedish Mattman & Robin handled "Me & the Rhythm." The American Rock Mafia did "Me & My Girls." The producers also get songwriting credit, sometimes primary. Most of these songs have four or five songwriters and some more than that, so it's really a jumble figuring out who's in charge around here. Maybe that's why it feels like there's a lack of unity across the album. Selena Gomez herself does a lot to hold it together, but there's also a sense she's not really in control—the persona again, which even so often feels too constructed and hollow for comfort. My favorites veer toward electronica-driven grooves inflected by new wave pop melodies. "Me & the Rhythm" makes me jump around. "Me & My Girls" puts me in mind of Kid Creole doing a spaghetti western soundtrack for a girl power movie—specific! I never get tired of the way they sing "Hey!" on "Sober." I'm not saying it doesn't mean anything that two of the four best songs here start with the word "Me"—the child star syndrome again or something. Nor can I claim some of these experiments in style and form don't go flat on their faces. The album's opening seconds almost torpedo the whole thing. And there are other problems. The self-pity is never far and sometimes all the way up to your chin ("Camouflage," say, which still has its merits, like another swear word). At this point she sometimes seems dangerously close to the Katy Perry treatment. Yet there is still something about her I like quite a bit.

1 comment:

  1. I think "Bad Liar" is the only one by her I know I like for sure but I'd like to support your consideration of her music. She's part of the pop mix. Have you heard the new Ariana Grande?