Thursday, September 15, 2016

Average, Not At All Awful: When The Sun Goes Down Is A Decent Album!

The Good: Some catchy tunes, Moments of vocals, Moments of theme
The Bad: Short, Frontloaded, Overproduced in places, Some unimpressive lyrics
The Basics: When The Sun Goes Down is a fun pop-dance album that is listenable, even if it is not great.

I have a feeling that everyone has some people they know of far better than they actually know, especially with the plethora of celebrities, musical artists and genuine actors working in the world today. For example, to the best of my knowledge, I have never seen any sort of performance or program that features any member of the Kardashian family from Keeping Up With The Kardashians, yet I'd lay fairly decent odds that I might be able to pick out a Kardashian on a magazine cover while at the grocery store. Until I made Selena Gomez my September Artist Of The Month, I was unsure that I had even heard one of her songs before, but I recognized her very easily. That sense that I had no rational reason to recognize Selena Gomez was reinforced when I listened to both of Gomez's solo albums - Revival (reviewed here!) and Stars Dance (reviewed here!) - and did not know any of the songs. That changed, though, when I started listening to the Selena Gomez & The Scene album When The Sun Goes Down.

When The Sun Goes Down is the Selena Gomez & The Scene album that opens with "Love You Like A Love Song," a very catchy dance-pop track that I heard on my last cross-country trip a lot. The song "Whiplash" sounded ridiculously familiar, too, but it turns out that was because it was co-written by Britney Spears and sounds exactly like what one might expect of one of her songs (especially from the era in which it was written!). When The Sun Goes Down is not a bad album, but it is very much what one expects from a dance-pop album, including being frontloaded to include the best, most catchy dance and pop numbers on the album's first half before descending into utterly forgettable songs on the latter half.

With twelve tracks, eleven songs (track 12 is a Spanish language version of the song "Who Says," which appears earlier on the album: "Dices"), When The Sun Goes Down is very short at only forty minutes long (I couldn't get the Deluxe Edition with its additional tracks, but considering they were just remixes of "Love You Like A Love Song," I don't feel like I am missing anything. When The Sun Goes Down was very much a studio creation: Gomez is the only member of the musical group who is credited as even a co-writer and only on two of the eleven songs. Selena Gomez provides all of the lead vocals and the members of the band The Scene appear to play all of the important instruments on the album. But many of the songs have electropop and dance influences, which prioritize production of the music over instrumentation and, as a result, the laundry list of producers involved with When The Sun Goes Down appear to have more musical influence over the album than Selena Gomez and/or The Scene. The result is an album where Selena Gomez & The Scene seems to have limited creative control over their creation, which might be why this was their last full studio album together.

Instrumentally, When The Sun Goes Down is dominated by synths and drums, which creates a very danceable sound most of the songs. This creates some interesting auditory discontinuities, most notably on "Middle Of Nowhere," which has a danceable beat and an up-tempo musical accompaniment to lyrics about heartbreak and abandon. In a similar way, the hypnotic, beat-driven sound of "Love You Like A Love Song" is hardly an embodiment of romance in musical form. That said, "We Own The Night" is one of the best, most memorable sounding pop-rock tracks from Selena Gomez's career - with or without The Scene.

Vocally, Selena Gomez has very few opportunities to show off the quality of her natural singing voice. Her vocals are produced to a mechanized quality on "Love You Like A Love Song" and she sounds like she is doing a solid Britney Spears impersonation on "Whiplash." While the vocals on "Who Says" sound occasionally syrupy, Gomez is able to show off some of her range on that track. "Dices" might be the most vocally impressive track of When The Sun Goes Down given that Gomez is not credited with translating "Who Says" to create "Dices;" Gomez performs the song with a precise and excited emotional quality of the English language version and many of the words come faster in "Dices," so that's no small feat.

When The Sun Goes Down is an album that tackles love, loss, and a lot of youth empowerment and it manages to hit more often than it misses on the lyrical front. In fact, "Who Says" has a lot of merit to it in the way it attempts to inspire the listener to change the world. When Gomez sings "Who says, who says you're not perfect? / Who says you're not worth it? / Who says you're the only one that's hurtin'" ("Who Says"), she is clearly exhorting the listener to challenge the authority of those who keep us in our places. The problem with "Who Says" on the lyrical front, though, it the way it includes so much emphasis on appearance over substance. It is hard to take seriously an empowerment song that repeats ". . . that's the price of beauty / Who says you're not pretty? / Who says you're not beautiful?" ("Who Says") so often, as if those were the most important qualities to validation.

What originally drew me to the works of Selena Gomez probably was the catchy quality of "Love You Like A Love Song." While "Love You Like A Love Song" seems vacuous and like a catchy hit at first blush, Selena Gomez & The Scene (and the trio who actually wrote the song) manage to make a pretty universally-accepted scholarly analysis musical: "It's been said and done / Every beautiful thought's been already sung / And I guess right now here's another one / So your melody will play on and on, with the best of 'em" ("Love You Like A Love Song"). The song might not be one of the great pop songs of all time, but it is solid and more substantive than most dance pop.

When The Sun Goes Down makes a solid stab at a song with conflict and angst on "My Dilemma," but it is undermined by its lines. With predictable rhymes like "And I know, what I know / And I know you're no good for me / Yeah I know, what I know / And I know it's not meant to be" ("My Dilemma"), Selena Gomez & The Scene present a song more generic than compelling.

Ultimately, When The Sun Goes Down is an average album that peaks early and the best parts are probably present on the band's compilation albums. The best song is "We Own The Night," the low point is the entirely forgettable "That's More Like It."

For other, former, Artist Of The Month works, please visit my reviews of:
The Collection - Alanis Morissette
American Fool - John Mellencamp
Goodbye Alice In Wonderland - Jewel


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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