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Album Review: Imagine Dragons - Mercury Act 1

Demi Lovato appears on All Time Low's new cut of their hit song Monsters

Album Review: P!nk - All I Know So Far

Album Review: Maroon 5 - Beautiful Mistakes (Ft. Megan Thee Stallion)

Abum Review: Demi Lovato - Dancing With the Devil…The Art of Starting Over

Imagine DragonsAlbum Review: Imagine Dragons - Mercury Act 1

There have been other rock bands from Las Vegas, but none have embodied the city’s essence like Imagine Dragons. Packed with all the pyrotechnics and budget-busting pageantry of the Strip, each of the band’s albums has played like an imagined Cirque Du Soleil production, as if they were designed not for stereos but for stages. If you’d never seen a picture of frontman Dan Reynolds before—and, despite this band’s monumental success, a lot of people haven’t—you might guess he looks like Criss Angel.

That embrace of brute-force spectacle has made Imagine Dragons one of modern rock’s few true blockbuster attractions, one of the most streamed bands of the Spotify era. But monetizing music isn’t the same as making people care about it. With no central personality for fans to feel truly vested in, the band can seem as anonymous as the black-shirted techies that strike the Wynn Encore Theater each night. On their fifth album, Mercury – Act 1, Reynolds works to change that, teaming with rock’s patron saint of prestige, Rick Rubin, for a humanizing makeover, complete with the requisite songs about suffering and mortality that Rubin demands from all of his charges.

Rubin’s presence softens Imagine Dragons’ sound in places, and after so many albums that played like the THX sound effect drawn out for an excruciating 50 minutes, that’s a welcome change of pace. In rare moments, Reynolds’ Rubin-mandated vulnerability works to his favor, especially on album highlight “Wrecked,” which he wrote about losing his sister-in-law to cancer. Here his clumsy lyricism, usually a liability, becomes an asset. When he sings, “We were there for the ups and downs/And there for the constant rounds of chemo,” it’s touching in its plainspokenness.

Overstatement is still this band’s very reason for being, though, so for most of Mercury they fire their emotions out of a T-shirt cannon. Reynolds’ snarl-yell, his signature since “Radioactive,” is one of the most grating sounds in popular music, and he goes absolutely nuclear with it on “Dull Knives,” which stews in wall-punching rage even as it pleads for empathy: “I’m crying for help, it’s such a cliché/Invisible pain, it’s filling each day.” Even worse is “Cutthroat,” a fuck-shit-up, you-want-a-piece of-me Woodstock ’99 throwback that’s the most dirtbag thing Fred Durst never wrote. Ironically, that song is immediately followed by one called “No Time for Toxic People,” a true Spider-Man-pointing-at-Spider-Man moment: If you’re looking to cut toxic people out of your life, try starting with the ones who wrote “Cutthroat.”

Elsewhere the band’s genre hopping, the secret sauce behind their billions of streams, leads to some truly stupefying combinations. With its pillow-humping synths, “Monday” is a sleazier rewrite of Muse’s “Madness,” while the hip-hop experiment “Follow You” sounds like Post Malone covering Queen at karaoke. Dopier still is the Bleachers-styled “It’s OK,” where good intentions and implied LGBTQ allyship are undercut by goofy ’80s Vacation-soundtrack vibes and the mock-Caribbean accents of its chanted chorus. Did they really intend for the album’s big self-acceptance anthem to sound this much like Todd Rundgren’s “Bang the Drum All Day”?

It’s truly rare to hear an album talk out of both sides of its mouth so incoherently while pandering so desperately in all directions . Mercury tries to be all things to all people, but mostly it’s a headache, a grim study in just how patronizing popular music can be in 2021. Imagine Dragons do intermittently demonstrate some signs of growth, but these don’t count for much; attempts at maturity really don’t go all that far on an album that mostly sounds like a truck full of teens driving by and flashing the shocker at you.

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Demi LovatoDemi Lovato appears on All Time Low's new cut of their hit song Monsters

Demi Lovato appears on All Time Low's new cut of 'Monsters' with blackbear.

The pop punk band have teamed up with their "long time friend" Demi on a new version of the track from their acclaimed LP, 'Wake Up, Sunshine'.

Frontman Alex Gaskarth said: “Demi’s been a friend for a long time and we’re really excited that she was down to lend her absolutely incredible voice to this song as we reimagine it and continue to celebrate all the ways it’s connecting with fans around the world."

The collaboration had been teased by both the 'Tell Me You Love Me' hitmaker and Alex and co on social media, with Demi sharing a picture of her cartoon self as a teaser from the lyric video for the track, which dropped alongside the song.

While Alex revealed that he waited a decade to finally get Demi to collaborate with the 'Lost In Stereo' hitmakers.

He tweeted: “Let’s goooooo!! Celebrating this song by getting another REAL one to absolutely shred it with us feels v v nice. A collab ten years in the making. Big @ddlovato (sic)"

Meanwhile, Mark Hoppus recently revealed it's "a matter of timing" before his and Alex's side project, Simple Creatures, release new music.

The Blink-182 star and Alex launched the project last year, with the release of two EPs, 'Strange Love' and 'Everything Opposite'.

And whilst the pair are keen to put out a third collection, Mark admitted it was "difficult" for them to fit in the time to work on their tunes while All Time Low were busy with promo and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

However, the 'All The Small Things' hitmaker, who described Simple Creatures as a "labor of love", revealed they are just a few songs away from finishing their next EP.

Mark said in September: "Simple Creatures is like this ongoing inside joke that the world gets to take part in. The whole concept was everything opposite of what we would do in our bands and we wanted to do something that was different to Blink or All Time Low.

"We want to continue making music but it's very difficult for me and Alex to do it. All Time Low is launching an album and we're in a pandemic so we want to get back in the studio and make more rad stuff but it's a matter of timing.

"We have the beginnings of another EP of music. We just have to finish it up and write a new song or two. But we both love it.

"It's a labor of love and something that we do outside of our normal bands. I think there's no limits and no rules and we can do whatever we want. That's what I also love about Blink, but Blink is this giant machine that takes a long time to pivot and do things. This is something that we do for the love of music and being silly."

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PinkAlbum Review: P!nk - All I Know So Far

The pop singer architects her legacy with a new documentary and live album from her 2019 tour. As a performer, she’s fun and loose, even as her newest music feels more like a means to an end.

Somewhere, on some radio, a P!nk song is playing—that’s been true for the past 20 years. She opened for NSYNC, then outlasted them; she wrote a surprisingly delicate anti-Bush ballad with the Indigo Girls, and her career outlasted that presidency; she collaborated with the lead singer of the now obsolete band fun. at the height of its popularity, in a song that still gets radio play; she wore giant sunglasses and mimed jabbing a toothbrush down her throat to mock the Paris Hilton archetype of female celebrity, and stayed relevant longer than both Hilton and anti-Hilton backlash. P!nk’s music oscillates between self-destruction and self-compassion, a balance she’s struck since her breakout album M!ssndazstood in 2001. After a litany of brash statements and cries for help, optimized for shock value (“Teachers dated me/My parents hated me”), she builds to a plea: “I’m a hazard to myself/Don’t let me get me.” On an album that strained to prove how dangerous or damaged or derailed the 22-year-old singer was—all dirty socks and diamond rings, extended metaphors describing her childhood as “my Vietnam”—“Don’t Let Me Get Me” was the song that stunned. There’s always a sudden softness in her party tracks, or a raw, brazen aside in her ballads.

P!nk is architecting her legacy now, and the industry is celebrating her for sticking around. On Sunday, Billboard gave her its “Icon” award, days after Amazon released a documentary, P!nk: All I Know So Far, following the massive 2019 European tour behind her 2017 album Beautiful Trauma. In recent years, P!nk has become known as a live entertainer, performing stunts and singing through elaborate acrobatic routines. The film focuses on her decision to bring her two young kids with her as she practiced and performed; they flail in the background of her rehearsals, diaper-clad and puffing on a trumpet backstage. “I want tour to be perfect for every single person that walks through those doors with a ticket in their hand,” P!nk says at one point, “but I also want it to be perfect in my kids’ minds. And I kill myself to do both.”

That strain hovers over the film’s accompanying live album, which leaves out some of P!nk’s more potent songs and instead asserts her place in a punk-adjacent musical canon, arguing that motherhood is fundamentally compatible with her watered-down brand of rebellion. All I Know So Far: Setlist is crammed with rock covers, some more successful than others. She braids a stomping version of No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” into a performance of her 2008 track “Funhouse,” which both tamps down the absurdity of P!nk’s metaphors (“This used to be a funhouse/But now it’s filled with evil clowns”) and highlights Gwen Stefani’s clear influence. Less thrilling is her take on “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which sags under the weight of ceremony without adding much to the original.

As a performer, P!nk is fun and brash and loose. “I forget the words,” she murmurs on the recording of her Nate Ruess collaboration, the sappy mallcore duet “Just Give Me a Reason.” “Screw that,” she says, and asks for a do-over. “I like that song.” She bounces on and off the beat on “Who Knew,” spilling over the song’s boundaries, and in the disarray the lyrics become disarming—“I’ll keep you locked in my head,” she whimpers, “until we meet again.” When she belts, her usually raspy voice scrapes at the notes, sometimes quivering with emotion. “I’m alright,” she cries on “So What,” convincing herself in real time, “I’m just fiiine.” On “Just Like a Pill,” one of the best songs she’s written, the audience rushes in to fill the gaps when she pauses; the recording becomes a document of this joint need, artist and audience working in tandem to cement a narrative of endurance.

The narrative P!nk wants to tell is that she’s a “renegade,” as she cooes on the title track—a new addition for the album, rooted in female empowerment—and that she’s stayed ahead of the times. But in reality P!nk is less revolutionary; she’s updated her music and her message in ways that seem both heartfelt and primed for mass appeal. The album includes her viral 2017 acceptance speech for the MTV Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award, somewhat jarringly slotted after a series of live songs, and in it she recalls talking to her then-six-year-old daughter about the toxicity of beauty standards and the freedom in androgyny. The applause fades into the next track, a blaring EDM beat from Cash Cash thumping under snippets from P!nk’s past interviews—“I need to know my pain is helping your pain,” she says, as the beat wheezes and drops. The messaging shows up on the album’s new songs, which seem less like anthems for the downtrodden and more like vessels for the statements P!nk wants to make now. At the Billboard award show, she and her nine-year-old daughter hung suspended in the air as they performed “Cover Me in Sunshine.” Guitar played somewhere offscreen, a low, forgettable strum. They twirled above the stage and chirped about “good times.” P!nk swung toward her daughter and their foreheads pressed together. It’s one of the weakest songs of her career; it may also mean the most.

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Beautiful MistakesAlbum Review: Maroon 5 - Beautiful Mistakes (Ft. Megan Thee Stallion)

Maroon 5 continues to double down on modern pop on their first single of 2021, “Beautiful Mistakes,” featuring Megan Thee Stallion.

Sometimes, it’s not an artist’s music that gets the buzz but rather something they say.

Adam Levine, the ‘front man’ of Maroon 5 definitely got some flak for saying, “There’s no bands anymore, and I feel like they’re a dying breed”. Expectedly, he received some criticism from ‘bands’ who are continuing with their careers. Also, plenty of folks took the opportunity to criticize M5 given the fact that, in all honesty, it does sound more like an Adam Levine solo project. Regardless, controversy aside, the ‘band’ released a new single, “Beautiful Mistakes” and tapped Meghan Thee Stallion for the assist. Hmm… I’ll leave it at that.

Actually, I won’t – sorry. Let’s keep it real. Maroon 5 has been more of pop collective for years. When I hear a M5 cut these days, I don’t necessarily associate the sound with that of a band. They haven’t sounded like Songs About Jane since, well, Songs About Jane. That’s no shade or a shot at the band, but if anything, the band has embraced Top 40 pop more and more and more. “Beautiful Mistakes” further confirms his, continuing to double down on the ultra-sleek, modern pop sound. This is a record that looks to conquer playlists and radio airwaves more than the artistry of preserving the band format. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. That said, I’m not sure I leave “Beautiful Mistakes” taking much away from it.

Adam Levine sings fine, as always, though there is ample vocal processing. Melodically, “Beautiful Mistakes” is tuneful enough but not game changing. Maroon 5 does muster up a catchy chorus, again, aimed at the pop crowd – not the ‘band’ crowd. Megan Thee Stallion provides a tame but rhythmic verse that flows respectably. She also incorporates some singing, which isn’t as potent for her generally, but complements the melodic vibe of this cut. I think we all know she’s at her best when she’s sexed-up and unapologetic AF. She’s certainly NOT that particular persona here.

It’s probably unfair that I mentioned Adam Levine’s comments in tandem with reviewing “Beautiful Mistakes.” That said, I do find it interesting that this pop collective arguably has been chief amongst those moving away from the traditional band to some extent. Nonetheless, as a song, “Beautiful Mistakes” uses the usual formula Maroon 5 have employed for years. It’s enjoyable enough but not particularly innovative and certainly not transcendent. Stans will be onboard, while the more casual M5 fan like myself will still be yearning for those “This Love” days.

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Demi LovatoAlbum Review: Demi Lovato - Dancing With the Devil…The Art of Starting Over

At the 2008 American Music Awards, Demi Lovato—then Disney’s leading lady for her star turn in Camp Rock—smiled as a red-carpet reporter asked about the inspiration behind her pop-punk solo music. “Believe it or not, being 16, I’ve been through a lot,” she answered with a dignified giggle. “Come on, how much heartbreak can you have at 16?” the man insisted. “Oh, a lot,” Lovato immediately retorted.

Over the next few years, as she dutifully performed the role of a chaste pop star—albeit one fascinated by metal music—Lovato struggled under the immense pressure of the media and music industries (child stars, we so often forget, are workers). Behind the scenes, Lovato struggled with an eating disorder, self-harm, and substance use. She recently revealed that she was raped at the age of 15. After entering a treatment facility for the first time at 18, Lovato was transparent about her struggles with addiction and recovery.

Arriving alongside the documentary and a blitz of confessional interviews, Lovato’s seventh album, Dancing with the Devil…The Art of Starting Over takes control of the narrative. Across 19 songs, the 28-year-old leans into her personal struggles; the pop star who once professed a desire to “be free of all demons” has seemingly accepted the reality that she must live alongside them. On the power ballad “Anyone,” Lovato tries to find solace in her art but comes up short. “A hundred million stories/And a hundred million songs/I feel stupid when I sing/Nobody’s listening to me,” she belts. Written before her relapse, it’s a cry for help from a place of loneliness and desperation. The slinky “Dancing with the Devil” outlines the precipitous slope that led to overdose: “A little red wine” became “a little white line,” and then “a little glass pipe.” “ICU (Madison’s Lullabye)” relives the moment when Lovato woke up in the hospital, legally blind and unable to recognize her little sister.

After this somber three-song prologue, Dancing with the Devil expands to reveal the person Lovato is—or aims to be—today; there is a lot of shed skin, rewritten endings, and references to reaching heaven. While Lovato’s previous record, 2017’s Tell Me You Love Me, dabbled in pool-party R&B and electropop, here she explores an array of influences from “The Art of Starting Over”’s soft rock to a haunting cover of Gary Jules’ haunting cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World.” “Lonely People” aims for a stadium singalong with a chorus that name-drops Romeo and Juliet, undercutting the positive vibes with the starkest of closing thoughts—“Truth is we all die alone/So you better love yourself before you go.”

Lovato is certainly not the first pop star to speak out about the music industry’s perpetuation of sexual and emotional abuse; much like Kesha, her gut-wrenching disclosures refuse to be pushed under the rug for fear of bad publicity or isolating a fanbase. But even when Lovato strikes an upbeat or optimistic tone, it’s difficult to look beyond the tragedy at the album’s core. The synthy “Melon Cake” takes its name from the birthday dessert Lovato’s team served her in the years preceding her overdose: a cylinder of ripe watermelon frosted in fat-free whipped cream and topped with sprinkles and candles. Even as Lovato confidently declares that melon cakes are a thing of the past, the image is so depressing it’s difficult to focus on anything else, especially on what is intended to be a fun song. But isn’t that what so many of us do to survive? We attempt to reframe our traumas as lessons learned; we use humor as a defense mechanism; we move on because dwelling in guilt or shame furthers the destructive spiral.

One of the rare moments when Dancing With the Devil moves beyond a 1:1 recreation of Lovato’s life is “Met Him Last Night,” a slinky duet with Ariana Grande. Both artists have lived through horrific tragedy and responded with elegance and empathy, writing songs about their experiences both for themselves and anyone who might see their own trauma reflected back. But “Met Him Last Night” does not aim for catharsis, at least not explicitly. Instead, the two blasély trill about lost innocence and deception in the shadow of “him,” apparently Satan. It’s the closest thing to escapism on an album wholly focused on hard reality.

On the other end of the spectrum is the music video for “Dancing With the Devil,” which recreates the night of Lovato’s overdose and the subsequent battle for her life in the ICU in startling detail. There’s the machine that cleaned her blood through a vein in her neck, the duffle bag presumably full of drugs, and the sponge bath that softly traces over the “survivor” tattoo on her neck. Even though Lovato co-directed the video, stating that sharing her lived experiences is part of her healing process, the visual feels almost unnecessarily voyeuristic: an artist recreating their worst moment with the assumption that it speaks for itself.

Dancing With the Devil asks you to trust that what Demi Lovato went through is enough. The music will undoubtedly reach listeners who struggle with their own burdens and look to Lovato as a role model, just as they have since she was that teenager on the red carpet, forced to justify the depths of her lived experience. This taking-off-the-makeup moment brings us closer to her than ever before: the four-part documentary rollout, the multiple album editions, the no-holds-barred press tour. But the diaristic nature of the music, and the blunt force with which it is delivered, showcases Demi Lovato the person and sidelines Demi Lovato the artist. It is an unenviable position: to have a story so harrowing that the emotional catharsis we feel in real life overshadows what she wanted to create on the album.

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