My Everything (to be released August 26, 2014)
What a difference a year makes.
Twelve months ago, if you asked me about an Ariana Grande, I’d assume you were trying to order some cappuccino thing from Starbucks. But by the fall, I was up on game – and I was a huge fan.
Ariana’s debut, Yours Truly, was one of the biggest surprises of 2013, blowing me away with a refreshing mix of lighthearted pop and hip-hop-drenched R&B. She easily lived up to those ever-present comparisons to Mariah Carey.
In an effort to ward off the monster known as the Sophomore Jinx, Ariana’s follow-up, My Everything plays it safe – leaning more on current pop trends than experimenting with throwback R&B. It’s enough to keep her core audience happy – and those cash registers ringing – but lacks the scope and diversity of her fun-filled debut.
The album’s lead single, “Problem,” arguably is the biggest song of the summer. It has all the elements of a hit – boisterous horns that make it instantly recognizable, a hook that burrows its way into your brain and says there, and a rap verse from the latest flavor of the month, Iggy Azalea. But Ariana’s vocals get a bit too screamy as she tries to stand out among the chaotic production. That’s not a common mistake though – in most cases, Ariana’s voice is the star of the show.
Her vocals help elevate the otherwise pedestrian drum marches on “Why Try” and liven up the dull “Best Mistake.” Actually, the worst mistake is Big Sean’s verse on the latter: “How can we keep the feelings fresh/how do we Ziploc it?” Just keep on shovelin’ dirt on hip-hop’s grave, homie.
Things liven up on “Break Your Heart Right Back,” which borrows from Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” (or “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” for you young’ns), including a great Biggie tribute verse from Childish Gambino. The R&B-tinged, upbeat “Be My Baby” also is a good fit for Ariana’s energy and understated soul.
But besides those tracks, few leave a lasting impression. The bouncy “One Last Time” is definitely catchy – as is “Hands On Me,” which sounds like the weird offspring of Beyonce’s “Get Me Bodied.” Neither will leave you yearning to revisit them, though.
Still, give Ariana props for relying on her tremendous talent to drive her music, instead of gimmicks and forced sex appeal (unlike some people we know). The ballads “Just A Little Bit of Your Heart” and “My Everything” soar with the might of a 10-year veteran. They’re solid and powerful but have just a hint of innocence as well – it’s Ariana’s signature touch.
My Everything is a perfectly safe, acceptable album that will do well at retail. The arrangements are good, the guest stars are predictable and the tracks are radio-friendly.
I’m sure Ariana will enjoy success but it’s a bit disappointing when we know she’s capable of so much more.
Best tracks: “Be My Baby,” “Break Your Heart Right Back,” “One Last Time”
3 stars out of 5