Friday, 18 May 2018

Charlie Puth - Voicenotes

Charlie Puth - Voicenotes

Puth's second album was self-produced in his bedroom. You wouldn't know that just by listening, though, such is the care and attention that's gone into crafting it.

'Voicenotes' was originally set for release at the start of the year but was pushed back, presumably to allow for extra polish. And it shows - from start to finish this is pop at its glossiest and most meticulous.

Puth's confidence comes across in the songwriting as much as the production. Sonically this is a more complete album than his 2016 debut, 'Nine Track Mind'. Taking inspiration from 90s R&B, it's all funk guitars, catchy hooks and layered vocal harmonies - though it's not quite up there with the likes of Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars or even Nick Jonas.

Take opener The Way I Am, a track full of hooks that slowly build into a rich texture. Driving rhythmic guitars are joined by funk bass and modern synths; falsetto vocals are enhanced by warm harmonies, each vocal melody layering up towards a kaleidoscopic ending. Tracks like Attention and How Long follow suit, months of hard work resulting in a smooth, effortless sound. Rolling Stone even interviewed Puth on the construction of the former.

Other tracks drift back to the 80s: the fluttering melodies of BOY and its neon, fizzing synths; or the pure new wave pop rock of Somebody Told Me. Both of these were produced by Puth alone, where others had songwriting assistance from some big US and Swedish talent: Savan Kotecha, Jacob Kasher Hindlin, Rami Yacoub. Even Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates fame helped on Slow It Down.

It's in the ballads that Puth falters. If You Leave Me Now features the ultimate 90s R&B act Boyz II Men, but it comes off as a poor pastiche with Puth utterly out-sung. Patient is a schmaltzy John Mayer knock-off. Change features American songwriter James Taylor, but it's saccharine to the core.

The real issue with 'Voicenotes' though is not the music but Puth himself. Who is Charlie Puth but another young, white, identikit male popstar? What does he stand for? By the end of the album it's still not clear. From his videos he's cute, likeable and slightly dorky, but his music feels like he's aiming for something far more serious and polished. He's clearly poured his heart and soul into this album and that shows, but you wish he'd open that bedroom door a little more often and let us in.


Gizzle's Choice:
* The Way I Am
* Somebody Told Me

Listen: 'Voicenotes' is out now.