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Album Review: Pink - Beautiful Trauma

Album Review: Maroon 5 - Red Pill Blues

Beyoncé & Jay-Z: OTR II review – heart-stopping scenes from a marriage

Review: Camila Cabello Eschews Bangers on Personal, Low-Key Solo Album

Review: Maroon 5 Still Deftly Navigating the Pop Moment on New LPs

PinkAlbum Review: Pink - Beautiful Trauma

Slantmagazine.com

Another Pink album populated with misfits and outcasts, Beautiful Trauma doesn’t lack for hard-headed but tenderhearted lovers trying to make the most of things despite their failings and imperfections. The title track, which opens the album, chronicles love won through all manner of hardship and vice, what Pink describes as her “perfect rock bottom.” She’s even more direct on “Where We Go,” singing to her partner, “We’ve both always been broken.”

As if to mirror Pink’s lyrics, the arrangements here seek to cull meaning from her messes. Beautiful Trauma is as sprawling as any of Pink’s past albums, packed with her signature skyscraping piano ballads and rowdy pop anthems, though it leaves room for fleet-footed folk, pulsing EDM, and—for her second album in a row—a crass, slightly out-of-place guest verse from Eminem. On paper, it all reads like the platonic ideal of a Pink project: a slightly warped pop album full of bent-and-broken songs about bent-and-broken people. So why does it never feel quite as raucous or unkempt as it should?

Beautiful Trauma’s neat construction renders the album less than the sum of its parts.

The album is too conspicuous in touching on all the sounds that have shaped the pop charts since Pink’s last album, 2012’s The Truth Above Love. “Where We Go” has the big-footed stomp of Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers, while “What About Us” is a spacy, atmospheric track with a pulsating dance beat. It’s to Pink’s credit that she sounds like a natural handling all of this material, yet the roundup of these styles can’t help but seem just a bit calculated for an album that’s supposedly about messiness. Producer Jack Antonoff lends these songs shape and focus, and there’s little fat to be found throughout. Yet, it all sounds a little too clean, too tidy, too easily resolved.

Beautiful Trauma’s neat construction renders the album less than the sum of its parts, but individual songs work well enough, thanks in no small part to Pink’s personality and charisma. The best moments are the soul-baring ones, where the singer’s beautiful-loser fixation feels raw and real: “Barbies,” with its gentle folk vibe, is pained in its longing for a simpler, easier time, while “But We Lost It” immediately takes its place among her most affecting damaged-love songs. Like the artist herself, the album demonstrates its humanity through tension and friction, when Pink’s sharp lyrics and deeply felt vocals push against the too-slick production.

 

EW.com

The pop gods can sometimes work in mysterious ways. When Pink arrived on the scene in 2000 with the hit “There You Go,” she became the third wheel to the Britney Spears-Christina Aguilera duopoly. “Tired of being compared to damn Britney Spears,” she even griped on her 2002 single “Don’t Let Me Get Me.” But whereas Brit and Xtina are not the ruling divas they once were, Pink has just gotten better and better. Her last effort, 2012’s The Truth About Love, was a career high, a fully realized work that also became her first No. 1 album. After five years away — during which she had her second child, son Jameson Moon, last December — Pink shows that she may just be getting this party started on her seventh LP, Beautiful Trauma.

Like its predecessor, the new album reveals more brutal truths about love from the unfiltered mind of Alecia Moore. On the chamber-tinged title tune — one of two tracks produced and cowritten by Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff — love is a drug (“The pill I keep taking, the nightmare I wake in”) that takes you down as much as it gets you high. Pink continues to ride that relationship roller coaster throughout Beautiful Trauma. On the pop-rock stomper “Whatever You Want,” she’s a ride-or-die partner committing to go down together because “‘you’re the one I wanna sink with.” Meanwhile, on the R&B-flavored “Better Life,” she wonders if her man could be dreaming of a “better wife” while he sleeps: “I’ve been up late watching you breathe/Wondering if you’re gonna leave.” And the single “What About Us” — as beautifully melancholy as a song with such a galloping chorus could be — asks “about all the broken happy ever afters” without finding any neat answers.

Proving to be just as loyal as you might expect from her, Pink reunites with trusted collaborators like Max Martin, Shellback, Greg Kurstin and Billy Mann on Beautiful Trauma. They help make the record sound both fresh and familiar, with occasional curves like the gospelized rave-up “I Am Here.” Elsewhere, Eminem follows up his guest turn on The Truth About Love’s “Here Comes the Weekend” with a cheeky cameo on “Revenge,” a rare comical moment. But Pink brings the album home with the Adele-esque “You Get My Love,” one of several ballads — two of which were cowritten by Julia Michaels — that show just how far she has left Britney and Christina behind. A-

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Maroon 5Album Review: Maroon 5 - Red Pill Blues

Pitchfork.com

Adam Levine’s band return for their sixth album of smooth, professional, antiseptic soft-rock, which somehow also features Kendrick Lamar, Future, and A$AP Rocky.

Adam Levine’s voice is one of the most benignly ubiquitous sounds in pop. It is air-conditioning, it is tap water, it is a thermostat set to 72 degrees. It’s coming, right now, from behind that potted plant over there. It doesn’t even belong to Levine’s throat alone—it is a sine wave that has also been loaned out to Akon, to Bruno Mars, to Nico & Vinz. It’s a voice that can sound vaguely like the Police, vaguely like Hall & Oates, or vaguely a young Michael Jackson. On 2012’s “One More Night,” it sounded vaguely like Rihanna. Forget his role as actual judge of singers—his voice has been its own franchise for years, rebooting itself year after year.

The fact that there is a band behind Levine, with lineup largely intact and original members miraculously unfired is a fact that seems to surprise even the band’s fans (they call themselves “Marooners.”) Here’s a fun test: Google “Maroon 5 members” and behold just how many results focus on the fact that yes, the band does have other members. It’s hard to blame these poor Marooners. Pulling my headphones off in the coffee shop where I was listening to this album, I discovered the same Maroon 5 single playing quietly over the system that I had just finished listening to. They are a piece of our built environment, and caring about them seems like a strange philosophical test: Can you care about bathwater or halogen lamps? Do you know that Maroon 5 has recorded five previous studio albums?

They have! Their sixth, Red Pill Blues, generated a groundswell of online response insofar as people wondered if the members knew that “the red pill” is a toxic term inextricably linked to the alt-right (turns out: No, they did not know this.) The band (for the record: Levine, along with Jesse Carmichael on keys and rhythm guitars; Mickey Madden on bass; James Valentine on lead and rhythm guitar; Matt Flynn on drums; and then PJ Morton and Sam Farrar on assorted other keys, MPCs, and filigree) have always had a shrewd and easy touch with soft rock, and opener “Best 4 U” reasserts their dominance here. The keys twinkle with a hint of wry humor; the guitars are there to remind you, distantly, of the existence of guitars, little dots and blobs surrounded by starchy white silence. Levine’s voice murmurs and glints in the corners of the arrangement, and the total effect is exactly as pleasingly immaculate and numbing as all soft rock should be.

The band themselves have always been tight and professional and smooth, and they remain truly excellent at this sound. But this sound alone, regrettably, doesn’t guarantee the kind of chart success that being Maroon 5 dictates. To help scale that mountain, which gets taller every album cycle, they’ve pulled several of One Direction’s songwriters into their orbit. That includes John Ryan, a covert pop operator who has landed co-writing credits on an impressive 27 1D songs and who also loosed Jason DeRulo’s unholy “Wiggle” into the universe. He pops up multiple times on Red Pill Blues, from the spiraling wind-tunnel “whoo-oo-oo” hook of “Wait” to the finger-picked guitar of One Direction dead ringer “Bet My Heart.”

Also pulled into the tractor beam is Starrah, whose onomatopoetic hooks on songs like Jeremih’s “Pass Dat,” Kevin Gates’ “2 Phones,” and Katy Perry’s “Swish Swish” pop up here on “Girls Like You” and “What Lovers Do.” Everything and everyone that pops up on a Maroon 5 album sounds somewhat leached of their essence, though—SZA duets with Levine on “What Lovers Do,” and somehow, that slightly anarchic mischief that enlivens and animates CTRL is gone completely. You wonder what filter they passed her vocal take through to render her so inert.

You also wonder, sadly, the same thing about Kendrick, who wanders through “Don’t Wanna Know” sounding pretty confused about how someone of his immense stature should be spending his cultural capital. A$AP Rocky, on the nonsensically worded ballad “Whiskey” (“I was so young/Till she kissed me, like I’m whiskey”), sounds equally lost, a designer t-shirt left in an Old Navy dressing room. Only Future sounds at home in these antiseptic environs.

It’s this utter lack of libido that ends up making Red Pill Blues so difficult to even finish. Soft rock and sex have a tricky relationship, and so do sex and Hot 100 pop. It’s the ostensible subject, or the ultimate aim, of 99% of the material, but actual, physical copulation is a nasty rumor to most of these songs. On “Lips on You,” Levine offers, in a gentlemanly way, to go down on you; the offer might be sexier if the heart-thump of the drum programming and the new age synth didn’t sound like Sting was servicing you in a Pier 1 Imports store.

The mixing on the album was done by Serban Ghenea, a secret-weapon pop engineer who has mixed hundreds of Hot 100 songs. His songs are distinguished by their naked-smooth surfaces that erase any hint of pumping blood. His work is astonishing, in its way, a series of swooping stainless steel curves that mark out our pop landscape. He’s a perfect partner for Levine, who sounds more appealing the more he transforms himself into a bouncing sound effect. On “Help Me Out,” he rackets around the twinkling synths in his head voice, sounding at least as nimble and half as human as they do. He is the perfect coach for a show simply called “The Voice:” disembodied, inhuman, he dances across the surface like laser light.

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Jay-Z and BeyoncéBeyoncé & Jay-Z: OTR II review – heart-stopping scenes from a marriage

theguardian.com

As self-mythologising couples go, not many come close to Beyoncé and Jay-Z. The pair’s first collaboration, ’03 Bonnie and Clyde, was a tale of devotional love accompanied by a video featuring Beyoncé as the ride-or-die moll to her rumoured boyfriend’s gangster. It’s a story they’ve stuck to over the years – this is their second On the Run tour, and the theme remains intact: the film that punctuates this first night show introduces “the gangster and the queen” and keeps returning to an image of a hotel room carpeted with cash. Yet the intervening decade and a half – and an infamous few seconds of CCTV footage from an elevator – has complicated what was once a straightforward way to bolster each other’s brands. Far from living in codependent bliss, theirs is a relationship now defined in the public eye by betrayal and rage. As the pair detailed on their respective recent albums – Lemonade and 4:44 – Jay-Z was unfaithful, almost letting, as the guilty party put it, “the baddest girl in the world get away”.

So the narrative has been recalibrated: the pair begin proceedings by hammering home the deathless nature of their love rather than its perfection. On a colossal screen, footage and slogans reinforce this idea of resilience, taking in a staged argument between the pair and never before seen pictures of their baby twins. The effect feels remarkably intimate for a stadium show, but also scrupulously posed – a tone that can feel disorientating as Beyoncé switches between songs about crazed lust and ballads about romantic betrayal (most starkly on 2006’s newly relevant Resentment).

But anyone hoping for this psychodrama in cartoonish panto format would have been sorely disappointed. The pair gaze at each other moonishly from the get-go: a vision of matrimonial love that, considering they are explicitly cashing in on their interpersonal trauma, can come off as slightly one-dimensional.

Which is not to say the show that services this message isn’t staggeringly impressive. The Beyoncé-mania that has gripped pop culture in recent years isn’t just poptimism gone mad: this is a woman who matches increasingly sophisticated and trailblazing material with once-in-a-generation onstage charisma. Her swagger is such that it can feel like the power dynamic between the two performers has been upended – once the sidekick, nowadays she’s the one taking her rapper husband for a ride as he hitches his wagon to her staggering cultural capital.

At first, this shift is writ large: Jay-Z initially seems as though he’s keeping the stage warm for Beyoncé while she gets her breath back. By the end though, he’s not been outshone – mainly because of his arsenal of glorious modern classics (99 Problems, Niggas In Paris, Big Pimpin’) and perhaps partly because of his excessive costume changes, which put Beyoncé’s meagre half-dozen sequined leotards in the shade.

Where Jay-Z does his hits justice, Beyoncé provides both the little treats – mouthing along to Jay’s raps; showcasing a peerless range of screwfaces; mercilessly barking “sing it” to her apparently lax fanbase – and a couple of heartstopping one-offs. She’s chameleonic, segueing from an imperious rendition of Lemonade’s Led Zeppelin-sampling Jack White collaboration Don’t Hurt Yourself to operatic singing, flanked by her dancers in a renaissance tableaux. During Sorry, she pauses midway through to turn the lyric “suck on my balls” into a faintly chilling haka-style refrain (hilariously, the song is followed by Jay-Z’s deeply-ironic-in-the-circumstances 99 Problems).

While Beyoncé’s recent shows have been characterised by identity and politics – her Coachella performance celebrated black college culture; her Superbowl show paid tribute to the Black Panthers – that’s not the MO here. But the slivers of material in that department are worth waiting for. Excerpts from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists speech gets pride of place on the massive screen; Sorry is punctuated by Beyoncé asking women in the audience whether they’ve “had enough”, in highly charged fashion. Jay-Z takes the mantle when it comes to race, airing the video for 4:44’s The Story of OJ after a female dancer twists and turns to Nina Simone’s Four Women.
The pair bow out with their evergreen 2003 hit Crazy In Love, a rendition of Jay Z’s Young Forever, and a film that sees them reconvene at the altar. It is hard to digest this smooth romantic arc when everyone knows how fraught their relationship has been – but that feeling is offset by the sheer majesty of their creative partnership, which surely only death could do part.

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Camila CabelloReview: Camila Cabello Eschews Bangers on Personal, Low-Key Solo Album

Rollingstone.com

Only 20, Camila Cabello is already a seasoned veteran of the pop-star wars. Born in Havana, raised in Miami, she blew up with the girl group Fifth Harmony, who formed on The X Factor before scoring superb hits like "Reflection" and "Work From Home." Although Cabello was the most high-profile member of Fifth Harmony, this group wasn't built to last, and Cabello broke away in one of the messiest, most shade-intensive pop splits of recent years. This was not exactly a love-and-kisses farewell: When Fifth Harmony performed at the VMAs last fall, they took the stage with an anonymous fifth member, then abruptly launched her offstage before they removed their hoods to sing "Angel."

Cabello's long-awaited solo debut is a personal statement, low-key and mellow even when it's infused with the rhythms of her Cuban-Mexican heritage. Her massive 2017 radio smash "Havana" is the centerpiece, as she rides a steamy piano groove with Young Thug. Camila is sleek pop that gets straight to the point, just 10 songs around the three-minute mark, eschewing celebrity guests or big-name producers. Given the hit collabos she's done with stars like Pitbull ("Hey Ma"), Shawn Mendes ("I Know What You Did Last Summer") and Machine Gun Kelly ("Bad Things"), it's a surprise is that Camila is so stripped down, always focusing on her voice. She leaves out some of the songs she's already dropped, like the brooding "I Have Questions" or "Crying in the Club." She also scrapped the awesomely melodramatic original title she announced: The Hurting. The Healing. The Loving.

Cabello doesn't go for club bangers here – "Havana" is the nearest Camila comes to a dance track, yet even that song is a bittersweet reverie of diaspora romance. She gets intimate in the reggaeton lilt of "She Loves Control" or the light tropical steel-drum breeze of "Inside Out," where she swerves between English and Spanish. Although she told Rolling Stone she aims for "a good balance of the emo and the happy," this girl definitely puts more of her heart into the emo. Cabello has a real flair for melancholy piano break-up ballads, as in "Something's Gotta Give" ("your November rain could set the night on fire") or "Consequences," where she ponders the high price of love: "Dirty tissues, trust issues." She also goes for the Ed Sheeran-style acoustic-guitar lament "All These Years" and the sultry "Into It," where she announces, "I'm not a psychic but I see myself all over you."

Cabello really hits her stride in "Never Be the Same," which sounds like Brian Eno's alien-prog masterwork Another Green World souped up into sputtering glitz-pop, with producer Frank Dukes (fresh from his work on Lorde's Melodrama and Drake's More Life). Cabello whispers about how love messes with the chemicals in her brain, over those ominously droning synths. It's Camila Cabello at her best – even at her most tormented, she sounds totally confident and totally herself.

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Maroon 5Review: Maroon 5 Still Deftly Navigating the Pop Moment on New LP

Rollingstone.com

On the sixth M5 LP, Adam Levine nuances a role he plays well: the Top 40 old-soul navigating whatever the pop-music moment throws his way. He works well alongside young talent, trading playful "hey now, baby"s with SZA over crisp brunch funk on "What Lovers Do" and ascending into falsetto sunshine with Julia Michaels on "Help Me Out." Kendrick Lamar provides a high point simply by showing up for "Don't Wanna Know." Whether skating over house beats on "Plastic Rose" or cruising through a ballad like "Denim Jacket," Levine proves himself a pliant star of Jacksonian ease and Stingly self-assurance.

Billboard.com

After making their introduction with the poignant guitar-centric Songs About Jane in 2002, Maroon 5 went on to craft hit after hit across the following four albums, all of which have been No. 1 or No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart. While some from-the-beginning fans have longed for a Songs About Jane Pt. 2, the pop-rock band instead evolved their sound, combining each member’s impressive musicianship with groovy experimentation – and on the group’s sixth LP, Red Pill Blues, the result may be their most polished yet.

The 15-song record presents the most electronic production the band has seen to date. They’ve found a way to harness that in classic Maroon 5 fashion, though, supplementing the synthy bass lines with irresistible beats and smooth vocals. This was immediately evident from the album’s lead single, the SZA-featuring “What Lovers Do,” which provides a perfect segue to the rest of the record with buoyant brightness and a bouncy hook.

Starting out the album with a multi-layered rhythm reminiscent of a Weeknd track on “Best 4 U,” Red Pill Blues takes fans on a rollercoaster ride of melodies and feelings from start to finish. And while there are heavier thumps behind the instruments on songs such as “Wait” and “Lips On You,” the amped-up production doesn’t take away from the artistry. More over, there’s still plenty of acoustic influence behind the beats, especially apparent in tracks like “Bet My Heart” and “Girls Like You,” and even a 7-minute jam session at the end of "Closure" -- a refreshing new addition to the band's catalog.

One of the other standout differences on Maroon 5’s latest LP is the amount of team-ups: Collaborations account for 6 of the 15 tracks, far more than any other record in their discography. But rather than taking away from their own talents, the variety of the featured artists – from Julia Michaels (“Help Me Out”) to Kendrick Lamar (“Don’t Wanna Know”) – further demonstrates their versatility and sprinkles unique flavors on the album with tracks like the wavy LunchMoney Lewis-assisted “Who I Am” and whispery croon “Whiskey” with A$AP Rocky.

Arguably the track most reminiscent of Maroon 5's first album is "Denim Jacket," essentially an electronic version of a ballad, as Levine sings of a lost love with hopeful regret. Another breakup sentiment is portrayed in the form of a snappier electro beat in "Plastic Rose," one that's a little bitterer in its message. It's this lyrical and musical contrast that shows Maroon 5's expertise, a reminder that no matter the change in sound, they can still produce profound sounds. And when it comes to the lyrical content, Maroon 5 has remained prolific in their various portrayals of relationship talk, whether it’s through metaphors (“All you gave me was a plastic rose”) or punchy opening lines ("Are we taking time or a time out?/ I can't take the in between").

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