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Selena Gomez – Revival Review

October 13, 2015 | Posted by David Hayter
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Selena Gomez – Revival Review  

1. Revival
2. Kill Em With Kindness
3. Hands To Myself
4. Same Old Love
5. Sober
6. Good For You (feat. A$AP Rocky)
7. Camouflage
8. Me & the Rhythm
9. Survivors
10. Body Heat
11. Rise

“I’m reborn in every moment, so who knows what I’ll become”. Selena Gomez couldn’t have signposted her desired transition from polite pop citizen to brazen adult artist more clearly. This is her Revival. Except it isn’t. Not in any meaningful way. She is making the right noises, but the title track is almost painfully transparent in its attempt to re-brand and own Selena’s evolution: “I feel like I’ve awakened lately, the chains are around me are finally breaking”. The lyrics can certainly be read without metaphor – a young woman is blooming after a relationship, exchanging one state of mind and form of existence for another. Unfortunately, everything about Revival (the album and title track) feels contrived to turn Selena Gomez from the girl-next-door so pure of intention that she played the goodie-two-shoes in her own bad girl break out film (Springbreakers), into a serious sexualized superstar.


The trouble with handholding is that it takes away the thrill of discovery; making every action and intention feel choreographed. “Good For You” (the sensual lead single that caused a stir on release) succeeded because it felt wholly natural. It was the sound of a woman coming to terms with her sexuality and making music that felt honest. Selena’s vocal has never been blessed with a depth of character, but “Good For You” thrived on smooth understatement, mixing the confidence of youth with the naïve and cloying need to please. Seductively produced it captured sometime of burgeoning adulthood, simultaneously self-assured and insecure in complex unspoken ways.


The great transitions of years past might be cartoonish, but it was utterly essential that they stayed true to youth itself. Miley’s brazen cultural appropriation and unabashed excess (“We Can’t Stop”), Taylor’s needle and hard edged sarcasm (“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”) or even Madonna’s realization that she could turn men to jelly with a little dose of bravado (“Like A Virgin”) thrived because they reflected changes that young adults the world over go through. Sexualization, cynicism and true self-confidence all come to us in time; the trouble with Revival is that the moments of evolution feel forced and jumbled. Similar to Taylor Swift’s Red, this album refuses to take the plunge and whole-heartedly embrace evolution. It might be unfair to ask, but Selena needs to decide, once and for all, whether she wants to be Carly Rae Jepsen (an arms length pop star with stellar writers and producers who plays it straight and sweet) or whether she wants to be something else entirely.


The trouble with choosing the second sexier option is that you have to have some idea of who you are and what you want to be. Revival tries desperately to have its sweetie-pie, sex-pot cake and eat it too, but, by pulling in two conflicting directions, Selena’s music feels insincere. “Revival” explicitly states that the shackles are coming off. The Hit-Boy production is jarring and subterranean in all the right ways, but Selena has her legs cut out from under her by one haphazard phrase: “It’s my time to butterfly”. It’s too Disney, too much like a game of dress up; it’s takes the listener out of moment and undermines the credibility “Good For You” earned.


Revival is littered with these moments. “Kill Em With Kindness” further breaks the illusion of artistic adulthood. The lyrics are over-blown (“your lies are bullets, your mouth’s a gun, no war in anger is ever won”) and while an arrangement built around a cloying whistle could prove a cynical hit, it relies heavily on the tried tropes that have been blighting the Euro-dance scene for a decade or more. “Hands To Myself” is better. The illusions to hip hop and drug culture feel forced, but Selena really is onto something with a deadpan delivery that sinks and swirls around a busy beat. Sadly, the chorus is too bombastic for its own good; an unnecessary moment of overstatement better suited to a teenie pop crescendo than the grind and pulse of grown up RnB.


Make no mistake, when Selena stays in her lane and wholly commits to a singular sonic vision she is sensational. “Me & The Rhythm” pulses and burbles deliciously, suggesting that a new generation of producers are learning the lessons of Daft Punk’s short lived Disco revival. Selena’s vocals are light as a feather. She glides effortlessly; utterly in control, but loose and believable. All tedious attempts to appear edgy or adult have been stripped away, there’s no “uppers” or “gin & juice”, just one woman, a dancefloor and some bad intentions.


Charli XCX comes to the rescue on “Same Old Love”, showing Gomez’s songwriting team that confidence is all you need to appear brash and spritely. The chorus is big, brassy and dramatic, but Selena’s vocal keeps the track in the pocket, carefully pairing Charli’s words to Stargate’s icy and willfully wonky production. This is how a modern break up anthem should sound – inspired by the 90s, but not beholden to them.


The stewing and remorseful “Sober” didn’t stand a chance. All the slamming synths slabs and girlie yelps in the world couldn’t hope match the energy or originality of “Same Old Love”. It’s a credit to Selena’s ability to carry a chorus and play it straight that the track succeeds in adding a sense of narrative depth to the LP as a whole. The arrangement might be predictable, but the lyrics are genuinely astute: “You don’t know how to love me when your sober, when the bottle’s done you pull me closer”. These despairing lines add a sorrowful context to “Good For You” and a sense of triumph to the freedom and independence of “Me & The Rhythm”.


The break up motif is worth reflecting on. Selena may remain detail-light and universal, but by sticking rigidly to break-up/rebirth narrative she goes some way to overcoming the bland veneer that has diminished her career. Those hoping she’d trade the beige of old for blue eroticism might be disappointed, but Selena’s decision to openly come to terms with heartache is the most believable and adult aspect of Revival. Sadly, for every meaningful lyric and considered moment, there’s a tedious clunker lying in wait. “Camouflage” is the worst offender; a brooding ballad so mawkish and anodyne that it erases the intimacy Selena worked so hard to establish.


Despite its flaws Revival can certainly be seen as a success, supplying a selection of stellar singles that should serve to introduce a young fanbase to the key sonic trends of the last half-decade. However, after a certain point, the pastiches fall flat. “Survivors” might artfully hack, slash and stitch together a slab of EDM, a dap of future RnB and a big booming lump of house revivalism, but, when comes push comes to shove, this Frankenstein’s monster of a track feels flaccid next to originals or even the first facsimiles. Worse still, Revival falls off a cliff in the final third as Hit-Boy flounders with the latin inspired thump of “Body Heat” and the overwritten and half-baked “Rise”. The later attempts to tie an overly tight narrative bow on this break-up LP. The uplifting moral lesson feels false and utterly disconnected from bitter believability of the first eight tracks. “Me & The Rhythm” already offered an equally satisfying conclusion – a true sense of escape and subconscious growth – without the storybook theatrics.


Similar to Taylor Swift’s Red or Justin Timberlake’s Justified, Revival provides enough straightjacket shattering moments to justify the inevitable coming of age hype. However, like the young Justin and Taylor, Selena remains tentative, dipping her toes in adventurous waters, embracing some slight thrills, but refusing to submerge herself fully. The sweetie pie and cookie cutter beach towel remains firmly attached, but Revival promises just enough for us to hope (if not expect) that Selena’s 1989 or Future Sex/Love Sounds may lie in wait.

The final score: review Average
The 411
The industry designated break out album come in many forms. The young superstar can embrace hyper-sexualization, cultural appropriation, artistic evolution or, simply, richer and more adult songwriting. There is no right way, nor any guarantee of success. Selena Gomez's Revival, for its part, feels compelled to reach out and pull in as many different directions as possible while still clinging to her girl-next-door past. In the album's worst moments Gomez feels insincere, like she's trying on the clothes of other more thoughtful artists, but at it's best she appears dynamic, sexy and introspective. The break up and rebirth narratives help to enrich some sub-par cuts and tip already excellent works (like "Good For You" and "Same Old Love") over the edge. Most importantly of all, no matter how incoherently she may have achieved it, Selena has shaken the beigeness that blighted her career up to this point. Revival is interesting, if not excellent. Like Justin Timberlake's Justified or Taylor Swift's Red, the truly stellar steps forward override the weaker material suggesting a bolder and brighter future may lay ahead. Selena doesn't have a remotely comparable back catalogue to either Taylor or JT at the moment they embraced modernity, but she has taken managed a promising, albeit shaky, first step towards artistic adulthood.

article topics :

Selena Gomez, David Hayter