Thursday 23 August 2018

Ariana Grande - Sweetener

Ariana Grande - Sweetener

'Sweetener' is one of, if not the most anticipated pop album of the year. This is the latest (fourth) album from pop's newest diva and the comeback of Grande after the devastating terrorist attack that took place at her concert in Manchester in 2017.

That anticipation has been spurred on by the unquestionably brilliant lead single no tears left to cry, a euphoric pop track that epitomises the need to lose yourself in music in the face of adversity. "I'm lovin', I'm livin', I'm pickin' it up," she repeats breathlessly over synth stabs and a playful, skipping beat. It's the perfect message to her young fans, especially those affected by Manchester.

And yet, the end product of 'Sweetener' is almost crushingly disappointing. Where each of her previous albums has seen her grow as an artist, here she takes the lead on songwriting but stagnates sonically, pushing into a more futuristic direction yet holding on to the same old collaborators.

Opening track raindrops (an angel cried) is a beautiful a capella opening that immediately showcases Grande's sumptuous vocals. It's taken from a song written by Bob Gaudio and performed by the Four Seasons - a song she apparently had in her head one day in the studio. And it sums up much of 'Sweetener': a beautifully sung insight into Grande as an artist that nevertheless relies too much on others.

While the production - predominantly from the Swedish team of Max Martin and Ilya Salmanzadeh - is impeccably polished, the album as a whole feels lazy. Melodies are monotonous and half-rapped, failing to make the most of Grande's voice. Pharrell Williams crops up on boring second track blazed - an obvious choice of collaborator who fails to excite, and whose minimalist, funk R&B informs multiple tracks. Later there's goodnight n go that's heavily inspired by Imogen Heap's song of the same name, a sweet ode to a favourite artist that's too indebted to the original.

The inclusion of Williams is one of a handful of half-arsed features. Nicki Minaj arrives for yet another duet on the light is coming for one quick forgettable verse that's swept aside by the incessant beat. And Missy Elliott is similarly wasted on borderline with a stuttering rap that's totally phoned in.

That's not to say there isn't some intelligent pop here. Aside from no tears left to cry, God is a woman is a real highlight: a feminist sex anthem that blends trap, gospel and celestial harmonies into one heavenly, sensual mix. On the addictive everytime she juxtaposes Drake-inspired production with cutesy lyrics of love like "something out of Shakespeare" that has her weak "like a teenager"; it's followed by breathin that seems to have literally lifted the beat from Drake's Hold On, We're Going Home but soars with its keytar solo in the middle eight.

The title track, meanwhile, is a sugary confection full of eye-rolling double entendres like "I like the way you lick the bowl", while the equally syrupy successful sees her reflecting on how it feels to be "so young and have this fun and be successful." 'Sweetener' is at times a stunning pop album, but it's also formulaic and saccharine, just too inconsistent to leave a satisfying taste in the mouth. "I'm so successful," she notes with a knowing wink. Commercially, perhaps, but this album is far from her best work.


Gizzle's Choice:
* God is a woman
* everyime
* no tears left to cry

Listen: 'Sweetener' is out now.