Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Rare Album That Gets Better As It Goes On: A Year Without Rain

The Good: Moments of voice, Moments of lyrics
The Bad: SHORT, Derivative, Overproduced
The Basics: The deluxe edition of A Year Without Rain is fractured and mostly disappointing, but the best tracks are not the ones up front!

In my study of musical artists over the last few years, I have come to find that one of the true, simple, joys in life is the thrill of discovery. In recent years, I have listened to quite a bit of music without any prior knowledge of what I will encounter. Ironically, I can recall the first time as an adult that I picked up an album without knowing a single single or the artist on the album and I know that at the time I did not realize just how much I had lucked out with the album being one that was truly great in its own right. But, years of musical studies of albums that have included numerous artists with whom I only had an initial passing familiarity has led me to see some patterns in the mainstream music industry. One of the patterns, especially in pop-rock albums, is frontloading; albums that put the marketable singles right up front and allow the musical experience to turn into auditory slush as the album goes on. There are very few successful musical artists or acts that do not present an album in that fashion; it is a very rare thing when an album gets better after the first few songs and finishes stronger than it begins.

A Year Without Rain is one of those rare exceptions.

Opening with the insipid, repetitive, pop song "Round & Round," A Year Without Rain gets off to a terrible start. And while the listener is lulled into a false sense of security by the title track as song number 2 (a song with decent lyrics and moments of voice from lead singer Selena Gomez, but with a forced dance pop tempo), the listener's hopes are dashed when that song is followed up with "Rock God" and the equally horrible "Off The Chain." But then something good happens around track seven, "Spotlight;" Selena Gomez & The Scene take the album in a more palatable direction and the songs become surprisingly good.

With thirteen tracks on the deluxe edition of A Year Without Rain, Selena Gomez & The Scene present an erratic, short, and repetitive album. Even the deluxe version ofA Year Without Rain is short as it clocks out at 45:47 and while it is longer than the original, it is fluffed out with three remixes of two of the songs from the base album, adding nothing substantively new to the musical experience. The short duration of A Year Without Rain might well reflect how little creative influence the Selena Gomez & The Scene had in the album's production; they are entirely relegated to performers on the album. Selena Gomez provides all the lead vocals (save the opening rap on "Intuition") and The Scene plays the musical instruments for the songs that are not programmed, but none of the members of the group so much as co-wrote any of the ten songs and they were not involved in the album's production, either. As a result, A Year Without Rain has the sound and feeling of being an album assembled as a studio cashgrab as opposed to an artistic endeavor.

The deluxe edition of A Year Without Rain is homogeneously pop music, most of which is designed for danceability as opposed to creating memorable tunes. Percussion and synthesizers dominate most of the deluxe edition of A Year Without Rain. There are no truly memorable musical moments on A Year Without Rain.

Selena Gomez's natural singing voice seldom comes through on A Year Without Rain. While "Intuition" allows her voice to be clearly, she plays off a very bland rap, which feels very forced on the album. "Intuition" is followed by "Spotlight," one of the tracks where Gomez's voice is most notably altered by production elements. But "Spotlight" is an interesting transition for A Year Without Rain because after a number of indistinct, generic-sounding pop songs, Selena Gomez starts to sound like Avril Lavigne. It is a somewhat shocking musical transition that leads to Gomez's natural voice breaking through on "Ghost Of You." "Ghost Of You" illustrates Gomez's vocal range and lung capacity in a way more compelling than the lyrics.

That is not to say "Ghost Of You" is not one of the better-written songs on A Year Without Rain. "Ghost Of You" is one of the tracks with a fairly universal message as Selena Gomez sings about the agony of the loss of innocence and the power of negative experiences. Indeed, she does not hint at all at her youth when she sings "And I'll never be like I was / The day I met you / Too naive, yes I was / Boy that's why I let you in / Wear your memory like a stain / Can't erase or numb the pain / Here to stay with me forever" ("Ghost Of You").

A Year Without Rain does not simply focus on relationships. Selena Gomez & The Scene present an album with a positive tone when it comes to interacting with the larger world. "Intuition" is focused on being the best one can be and with lines like "Believe in what we feel inside / Believe and it will never die / Don't never let this life pass us by / Live like there's no tomorrow," "Live Like There's No Tomorrow" encourages listeners to make the most out of life. These are good messages and they are presented well-enough to be heard.

Unfortunately, the process of getting to the good lines is an often agonizing one. Most of the songs are disturbingly repetitive, starting with "Round & Round." It is hard to see what the message Selena Gomez & The Scene wanted their listeners to get out of songs like "Off The Chain." With the frequent refrain of "A thousand church bells ringing / I can hear the angels singing / When you call my name / Your love is off the chain" ("Off The Chain") before the title is repeated ad nauseaum, the song is just bad and singing to the lowest common denominator of youth culture.

Despite the fact that A Year Without Rain generally gets better in its latter half, it is still a disappointing album that is impossible to recommend.

The best song is "Ghost Of You," the low point is "Rock God" (though the remix of "Round & Round" that appears near the end of the Deluxe edition is not doing the album any proud service!).

For other works with Selena Gomez, please visit my reviews of:
The Fundamentals Of Caring
Revival (Deluxe Edition)
The Big Short
Hotel Transylvania 2
Behaving Badly
Stars Dance
Hotel Transylvania
When The Sun Goes Down - Selena Gomez & The Scene
Horton Hears A Who!


To see how this album stacks up against every other musical work I have reviewed, please check out my Music Review Index Page where the reviews are organized best to worst rated!

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