Saturday, September 3, 2016

Selena Gomez Is My September Artist Of The Month! I Start At The End With Revival!

The Good: Moments of voice, One or two lines/themes
The Bad: Musically dull, Often overproduces the vocals, Short (even for the Deluxe Edition!)
The Basics: Revival might have a very personal story and journey behind it, but it is produced to be anything but personal and ends up as a sadly generic dance-pop album.

I do not listen to a whole ton of new music these days. I live in an area without any real radio reception and so I have fallen out of the habit of listening to Top 40 pop music. Instead, I listen to albums. When I listened to the latest album by Britney Spears, Glory (reviewed here!), I found myself exceptionally dismayed and I found myself wondering if all new music was as bad. To try to find an answer to that question, I decided that I would make a contemporary musical artist my September Artist Of The Month. I chose Selena Gomez.

I'm starting my study of the musical works of Selena Gomez at her (current) end and working backwards. Today, I am reviewing the deluxe edition of her album Revival. There is something very liberating about reviewing the latest work first in that, as a reviewer, I am not crushed by the weight of precedent; I cannot discuss the artist's growth or make a comparative analysis. This is a very pure review of the deluxe edition of Revival and as such it is a review of what the listener hears when they put in the album.

Revival is a largely generic synth- and production-driven dance pop album that does not take many spinnings to reveal tracks derivative of one another and a generally indistinct sound.

With only fourteen songs, clocking out at 50:33, even the deluxe edition of Revival is short. Selena Gomez provides the lead vocals on all of the songs and she co-wrote nine of the fourteen songs. While Gomez does not play any musical instruments on the album and she is not part of the rather extensive list of producers who created the individual tracks, she is credited with an executive producers credit. As a result, it seems very fair to say that Gomez had some influence in what she wanted to say on Revival, but not a lot of control over how her musical statements got made. With over a third of the album utilizing Gomez as a performer instead of an artist, it is somewhat unsurprising that there is an assembled and inconsistent flow to the album.

Musically, Revival is something of a mess, but it is a mess of dullness and inconsistency. After listening to the album several times, it was utterly unsurprising to me that the song "Same Old Love" was released as a single; it has an infectious dance-pop sound. It is catchy and has a fairly distinct melody. "Sober" might get a little repetitive, but it makes a good statement in a very musical way. But much of the album includes murky, synth-driven tracks with the same slow percussion and those tracks blend together in a way that disappoints the ear. On the first two spinnings of the album, when "Survivor" and "Nobody" came up, I felt I might be listening to remixes of some of the earlier tracks on the album. The music is not all bad, but most of it is indistinct and blends together.

Arguably, the most musically impressive track is "Hands To Myself." But even "Hands To Myself" was a song I enjoyed more for the nostalgia quality to it than for its own merits. "Hands To Myself" sounds a lot, at its outset, like a lost Michael Jackson song. It then transitions into something that is very much like Prince (specifically on "Kiss"), which is very appealing to someone who grew up in the 1980s. To be fair, "Camouflage" is also a much different track, musically, as it is a stripped-down piano-driven track, but because of how Selena Gomez's vocals dominate the song, the instrumental accompaniment is surprisingly easy to overlook.

Vocally, Revival reveals hints of potential for Selena Gomez's voice, but the album renders her voice so inconsistently, it is hard not to be disappointed. "Camouflage" presents Selena Gomez's natural vocals and they are beautiful; she has a wonderful voice with impressive range. "Me & The Rhythm" has Gomez going quite high and exhibiting some serious lung capacity, which hints at the artist's innate and developed talents. Unfortunately, Gomez's natural vocals are seldom evident on Revival. Production elements are used to alter Gomez's voice on "Sober," "Survivors," and many other songs. The alterations make Selena Gomez sound mechanical and inorganic . . . it's a falseness that clashes noticeably with the themes of most of the lyrics on Revival. It also makes the listener wonder how good an acoustic reworking of Revival could be . . . The inclusion of a guest rapper on "Good For You" stands out as a terrific musical mistake.

As for the lyrics, Selena Gomez seems to have something to say on Revival and many of the themes and lines are quite good. Gomez makes musical a discussion of how the party scene makes for false friends with "Sober." Indeed, instead of a dumb teen anthem promoting drinking and stupidity, Gomez sings "You don't know how to love me when you're sober / When the bottle's done you pull me closer / You're saying all the things that you're supposed to / But you don't know how to love me when you're sober / Why is it so different when we wake up? / Same lips, same kiss, but not the same touch" ("Sober") and it is a welcome statement that Gomez makes musical.

Selena Gomez is all about empowerment on Revival and there are some wonderful songs about social responsibility, which is not a very common theme in pop-rock today. But with lines like "You can tap into the strength you never knew you had / You can breathe into your faith no matter where you’re at / Just close your eyes and change your life / Like the air / Like the air you can / Rise from the rubble with your mind, you can hover / You can rise like the tide, like the heat in the summer" ("Rise"), it is somewhat surprising that Gomez has not inspired a new generation of volunteers.

There are also some wonderfully personal moments on Revival and they remind the listener that Selena Gomez is a real person. It is hard to think of someone who looks like Selena Gomez as insecure of anyone, but the artist reveals her vulnerability on "Perfect." A rare musical story-song on Revival, "Perfect" allows Gomez to articulate about living in the shadow of a past lover: "Bet she's beautiful like you, like you / And I bet she's got that touch / Makes you fall in love, like you, like you / I can taste her lipstick and see her laying across your chest / I can feel the distance every time you remember her fingertips / Maybe I should be more like her" ("Perfect").

Ultimately, though, Revival is indistinct when it is not being a mess of contradictory themes (social responsibility and generic dance-party songs are back to back on the album!) and sounds. It is hardly an inspiring album and not one that captivates. Hopefully, the rest of the month's albums from Gomez will have more to them!

The best track is "Sober," the low point is the banal, generic, dance track "Body Heat."

For other, former, Artist Of The Month works, please visit my reviews of:
The Circle In The Square - Flobots
@#%&*! Smilers - Aimee Mann
MTV Unplugged - 10,000 Maniacs


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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