Saturday, January 11, 2020

Review: Rare • Selena Gomez

Selena Gomez has spent the better part of recent memory in the background. Like an idle television warming the silent air of an otherwise quiet house, she became a comfortingly familiar voice amid anonymous radio fodder. She was pasted into electronic drops and took the hook on mega-collaborations. Drip-fed once or twice a year, the tracks were generally enjoyable – spare "Bad Liar," which was downright impeccable – but disconnected from the woman behind them: Despite lifelong tabloid coverage and an Instagram following over four times larger than California’s population, she became the most elusive member of young Hollywood by choice.

It was an odd time for her to tense up: Not until her last record cycle was Selena Gomez’s music career just an obligatory extension of her brand. Both a heartbreak statement and a battle cry, Revival pulled her away from the artificially sweetened pop music that made her popular among children and preteens. Her voice's shiny wrapping was split away to leave us with a soft-edged whisper at its quietest and a thin shout at most. And more importantly, she seemed comfortable as an essential component of her own music – something she seemed committed to continuing when she opened the promotion of her third studio record, Rare.

"Lose You To Love Me," the uncharacteristic piano ballad that somehow became Gomez’s only number one single, feels like an expected (and long overdue) end to the doomed love affair that took a life of its own and plagued her narrative throughout most of the last decade. But released on its heels, "Look At Her Now" is a sleek dance cut, filled with indecipherable vocal chops, a hook hummed like a sweatshirt zipper, and declarations that "She knows she'll find love, only if she wants it." The track cuts ties, making haste to snap the rest of the album in place: Though it vaguely infuses more of her personal narrative than any of her musical output prior, Rare is ultimately a let-go, feel-good record.

Having never been known as a vocal siren, Gomez benefits from undemanding, intonation-focused songwriting. Here, a revolving door of producers and songwriters craft a surprisingly consistent – even if predictably safe – ecosystem of saturated grooves, on-the-face stanzas, and simple, sticky melodies. This philosophy is exercised especially well toward the back half of this record, on tracks like the stomp-beaten "Kinda Crazy" and "Crowded Room," a stellar down-tempo cut that may contain her most textured vocal take of the bunch. "Vulnerable" and "Sweeter Place," meanwhile, revive the forgotten art of a moody dance break for instant gratification, though the former's breathy, pitter-patter verses and tribal-lite beat have more staying power.

Admittedly, Gomez's lax regimen requires her instrumentation to compensate, so some of the catchiest songs here are a bit mechanical: Digitized vocal creaks swallow Gomez's melody on "People You Know," and she doesn't stand a chance against the hard bass and beats that slam against her on "Dance Again," an undeniable banger. Nevertheless, stylistic experimentation is done within Gomez's means, only truly failing on a dud like "Ring," and the record as a whole is functional and enjoyable, even if a bit perplexing: Gomez sounds both energetic and reserved, reflective and nonchalant simultaneously. It seems that if she plans to step forward fully again, it’s going to be on her own time – but for now, Rare serves its purpose.

Rare is available now under Interscope Records.

No comments

Post a Comment

© Aural Fixation