Boldness is the hallmark of Demi Lovato’s new album, “Dancing With the Devil… The Art of Starting Over”, an assertion that will not surprise anyone after the pop star’s media blitzkrieg in recent weeks. The fact that this is not a surprise is either an advantage or a problem, depending on your point of view.
Is the album’s release the culmination of a cycle in which she has told her disturbing story in a documentary series and associated interviews, or does it risk coming across as an afterthought in this campaign? She has been so dominant in pop news that it’s hard to believe that only two and a half weeks have passed since the premiere of the YouTube serial movie “Dancing With the Devil” in South By Southwest. Hearing those same heartbreaking and now legendary events of his addiction and recovery play out in song is a bit like: You saw the blockbuster movie; now here is the musical adaptation of Broadway.
“The Art of Starting Over” (we now designate the album by the second half of its bifurcated title, to avoid any confusion with the film) falls squarely into a confessional pop tradition which extends at least to over-being by John Lennon – reissued “Plastic Ono Band” for most of Taylor Swift’s works. Probably every other record in this legendary lore delivered its straightforwardness and shock from release day, however, without a follow-up to a feature-length teaser, making this vast collection of 18 songs (22 in the digital enhanced edition as a bonus!) More difficult. to evaluate by itself. And it’s not just the documentary: Judgment may be further clouded by the release of a video clip Thursday night for the half-title song, “Dancing With the Devil,” which is sure to elicit strong opinions. favorable and unfavorable by putting on Lovato in near-death makeup, recreating the worst moments of her life in song as she sings from a hospital stretcher, tubes her nose in place of an earphone.
If “start over” did coming to us in isolation, with no associated projects or hype to manipulate expectations, here to the best of our ability to theorize about this situation, that’s what we’d probably end up saying about it: it is, in fact , bold and cheeky, and heartbreaking at times (to use any adjectives already applied to the movie), and Lovato has chutzpah from Malibu to the Atlantic and back to present himself in such crude terms. It’s almost worthy of a landmark, really, in that confessional pop-rock lineage we just talked about, for the few filters she cares to put on a publicized privacy. And… we wish the songs were a little better.
It should probably be added that the evaluations are complicated by “The Art of Starting Over” not knowing exactly what kind of album he wants to be. It’s a diary opened and turned into a sheet music with blood on the pages, yes… except for the times when it just wants to turn into a pop album. This betting coverage is basically a good thing: you don’t want a 22-song album all about one person’s suffering. But this is it’s a little hard to follow where “Starting Over” is going when, at just three tracks, an interlude of Lovato with spoken words in between and literally says the album is starting over, and there are several other big gear changes to come. (although none of them are shaping up so well).
It looks like Lovato designed these first three pre-interlude tracks as their own EP-in-an-LP… the uplifting hyper-reality soundtrack of “Dancing With the Devil,” the documentary, getting shock- and- admire immediately before giving the listener and herself a license to relax a bit. Of these three, and really of the whole album, the opening “Anyone” is the best track. Presented exactly as she belted him at the Grammys in January 2020, accompanied only by a piano, it feels subscribed, but subscribed in the best and most raw way, bringing into play personal desolation with a crudeness that even Lennon could be proud … even though her primary cry-vocalizing therapy version is still going to lean toward Broadway with an edgy rasp down her throat. “I feel stupid when I sing” is always one of the most empowering things a performer has ever sung, at least this popular performer, in front of millions of people, at this booming natural decibel level.
It’s a high enough – or high enough, if you will – that it’s not a terrible thing to say that the rest of the album can never beat that. But it dives pretty quickly with “Dancing With the Devil”, even if this story of a relapse begins with a hell of a promising first verse: “It’s just a little red wine, I’m fine / Not like I want to do that every night / i was good, i don’t deserve it? / I think I deserved it… ”This addict’s rationale gives way to cliched hell imagery and bland drama production, as a timeless pro forma chorus leaves the song’s potential to morph into something really fascinating related to purgatory. Next comes another ballad for solo piano, “ICU (Madison’s Lullabye)”, this one is a sweet counterpoint to “Anyone”, Lovato sharing his sorrow at having let down his little sister by finding himself at the USI, probably should never be turned into a “I see you” pun, even with the noblest of intentions.
After this awkward now-the-album-is-really-starting interlude, it will be a relief that Lovato gets a light R&B groove for the first time with the other title track, “The Art of Starting Over”, although its pleasant insubstantiality is a bit of a jerk after the Götterdämmerung of those first three tracks. “Lonely People” has an almost sung chorus over a rhythm guitar riff that makes the track feel like a pretty decent April Lavigne / Selena Gomez hybrid. One of the highlights of the album, the acoustics of “The Way You Don’t Look at Me” – one of the few times you’ve heard steel guitar on a track by Demi Lovato – makes a cutting edge work on how much worse a lover’s quiet apathy can be than going to “hell and back”; not for the last time on the album, Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter make a good writing team for her when it comes to tackling ‘problems’.
“Melon Cake” tries to divide the difference between the two sides of the album: it’s in this super-confessional mode, like those early tracks – Lovato talked about how, in part of his imposed diet as as a child star, its managers put candles in watermelons in place of real birthday cakes – but with a frothy pop feel in place of musical melodrama. A promising song in theory, but hearing Lovato sing “No more melon cake” over and over again belies the album’s desire to be content too often with elementary, singing backing lines.
Her collaboration with Ariana Grande, “Met Him Last Night,” isn’t the battle of the divas you’d hope for; it’s one too many ‘heck’ song on an album that doesn’t lack sulfur imagery, and there’s a reason Grande’s co-written song hasn’t made any of her recent albums – it’s is at best on the bonus track. It’s one of the few pieces that Lovato didn’t have a hand in writing; another, and far superior, is “Carefully”. Without the autobiographical details that the singer tries to incorporate into every other nook and cranny of the collection, “Carefully” stands out, being more impersonal… but it’s also a work so beautifully melodic and well-crafted that it will makes one wish that I would come back to the studio right away for a non-conceptual album of such good outside contributions.
“The kind of lover that I am” strikes another of Lovato’s current talking points – the pansexual. Seems like the really provocative verse, “I don’t care if you have a dick / I don’t care if you have a WAP”, was inserted into an existing song. But producer Oak knows exactly how to sell the easy, light hook that is the best on the album, with soft, layered backing vocals and a live-sounding band that pulls the album out of all that hellfire. and puts it somewhere on a sexual tropical. Isle.
“Facile”, a duet with Noah Cyrus, shatters that sunny vibe with a return to melodrama – loaded with unnecessary strings that sound straight out of ProTools, even though the credits say they’re real. The Bummer mode continues but at least picks up the pace with “15 Minutes,” a kiss to a lover who would have clung to her for the fleeting glory of Warholesque. Aside from the opening number, the album could climax lyrically when Lovato, not one for immense measures of personal modesty, states, “I’m not innocent / I know I’m a headache but I’m working on it.” / It should be an honor / I even had time to bother myself. The honor of seeing this kind of lyrical daring is all ours.
Disappointing top honors go to the Saweetie collaboration “My Girlfriends Are My Boyfriend”, if only because one of the album’s best lyrical concepts, and even some fairly good line-by-line performance, is wasted on the most aggressive track on the board. Whatever title seems to promise, this isn’t another nod to pansexuality – it’s a friendship hymn about romance or, as Saweetie inevitably puts it, “Girls on Dicks.” But the sharp lines of the worms are cut by a nursery. -rhyme chorus that even a toddler could get tired of, not to mention adult women who need a new hymn for a girls’ night out.
“California Sober” gives the album a pretty cali-folkloric Santa Ana twist of a musical interlude… alluding and not making any literal lyrical reference to the weed and alcohol that fits the controversial definition of Lovato of “sobriety avoiding difficult things.” (Elton John won’t be including this song in his personal playlist anyway.) “Mad World,” his version of the oft-taken Tears for Fears song, clearly belongs on the album because … was a goal of 21 tracks for the album and I got stuck at 20? It’s not bad, but it’s a mystery. The non-deluxe part of the album ends in a satisfying place with “Good Place,” a reasonably happy forever recap that once again proves that Tranter and Michaels are good partners. Put the alluring feel and sophisticated, acoustically rendered melody on the replay, and you might even convince yourself that the album isn’t as scattered as it is.
“Good Place” actually does a great job of showcasing Lovato’s upper voice in non-belter mode, making him a nice bookend at the opening of the balls that was “Anyone,” kinda more than an hour ago. The above “Good Place” seems too often everywhere – a planned tour de force that probably should have made up his mind whether he really wanted to be a soundtrack to the work of “Devil’s” or just revert completely to Fun Demi as tonic for all the traumas exposed in the documentary. Among the openly autobiographical numbers, there are quite good and not so hot numbers; the same irregularity occurs as the album takes breakout turns. It might not be such a problem if “Art of recommencing” had undeniable success on it to help roll over inequalities. But there is no doubt that she is alive, well, sings more than well and getting around little issues like how to make a cohesive album instead of dancing with MD