Likes: Maria, Sick of Sittin', Twice, Unless It's with You
Overall: Veers from intriguing to mediocre, but hints at future artistic revitalization
These days, the average artist drops a new album every two years. This doesn't leave much room for creative growth and contemplation, especially if one is touring and promoting the entire period between. The general end result is an array of rushed and undercooked projects that won't have a lasting impact. In that respect, Christina Aguilera is one of many acts who benefitted from starting a career in the late 1990's and early 2000's. Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away, it was standard for releases to be 3-4 years apart. The one occasion Aguilera deviated from this, the easily forgettable Lotus (2012) came. Now, after exceeding her usual interval by almost double, she's returned with Liberation. However, it doesn't sound like a lengthy hiatus made much of a difference this turn. When you listen to it, you may ask, "This is all after six years?"
Liberation's packaging and opening numbers make promises it can't keep. A bare-faced, wet-haired Aguilera dons the cover. The lead track is a brief, but breathtaking piano and strings instrumental. Our star chanteuse calls, "Where are you? Are you there? Remember?," as a baby laughs in the background. This segues into "Searching for Maria," an interlude where Aguilera wistfully sings the eponymous tune from The Sound of Music (a favorite of hers). Her voice echoes through to "Maria," which samples the ever-haunting 1972 Michael Jackson song of the same title. Jackson's distressed pleas to a love lost lay the stage for her to discuss losing herself. The repeat mentions of Maria are a reference to her middle name; it's how she chooses to represent her once unsullied spirit. She bewails "How was I supposed to know that it would cost my soul? And how am I supposed to face this lonely life I've created?...Was too young to know the difference...I believe my own lies...I'm facing the mirror...Why don't I see her? I just need to see ya', Maria...Don't you keep on runnin' from me." It's a very compelling first six minutes. You're prepared and eager to learn more about her feelings of displacement. Are they personally or professionally based, or both? What is she 'liberating' herself from? Will the album's conclusion be a cliffhanger, or will it reveal that she found Maria? None of these questions are answered to a significant extent. None. It's like being all packed up and ready to go to Disneyland, but your dad never arrives to pick you up.
The rock/soul, Woodstock-ish "Sick of Sittin'" implies her exasperation with an industry driven by money versus art, but the active word here is "implies." What it puts forth would be sufficient if its allusions were expounded on in future songs, but alas, they are not. Next is "Dreamers," a prelude to the single "Fall in Line" with Demi Lovato. Little girls tell what they want to be when they grow up, and assert a resolute position of strength. The duet insists to young ones they don't have to live within rigid, gender-biased paradigms. Though it has a valuable message, it isn't distinctly personal. It's also not very enthralling, despite it being dispensed by two powerhouses known for their emotive performances.
Overall: The sleepy, monotonous production drags the whole project down
I wish I could say the most disappointing thing about Toni Braxton's newest release (and first on Def Jam Recordings), Sex & Cigarettes, is that it's a very short, 8-track EP. Rather, I say with regret that I stand relieved at its brevity. It's damning liability is its narcoleptic music. Bare-bone arrangements that rely on acoustic guitars, strings and/or piano have their purpose. They're soothing and are a welcomed alternative to heavy rhythms, effects and other production clutter. The minimalism often helps in playing up emotion and creating the perception of intimacy. However, a little adornment is still needed to prevent a 'bare-bones' piece from being a snooze. There are no musical upsurges, noteworthy vocal moments or particularly etching lyrics to awaken the compositions on Braxton's album. They all plateau by the end of the first chorus. I was reminded of every TV scene I've viewed where a police officer yelled "Move on; there's nothing to see here!" On the production team are several individuals Braxton has collaborated with before, including Paul Boutin (ex. The Heat, engineering), Antonio Dixon (ex. Love, Marriage & Divorce, songwriting) and Kenneth 'Babyface' Edmonds (ex. producing and/or writing on every Toni album except Pulse).
Though it's unlikely people will be quoting or tattooing lyrics from Braxton's octet, the material is respectable. This excludes the childishly and regressively worded "FOH," the text message acronym for 'f*ck out of here.' Man, do I miss the days where I could get through an album without hearing a song that's phrased like a street or online conversation. I also miss the days of the ever-regal diva who saved the F-bombs for the house (the expletive is also unnecessarily used on "Sex and Cigarettes"). The other thing the content has going for it is that it's conceptually consistent. All the romance-related regret and misery might've been prickling, if the production wasn't so dry. Daryl Simmons, Stuart Crichton, Patrick "J.Que" Smith and singer Colbie Calliat are among those who co-wrote with Braxton. Simmons is a long-time Babyface collaborator whose robust R&B resume includes work with Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, TLC, Destiny's Child and Boyz II Men. Crichton and Smith have credits with Kylie Minogue, Delta Goodrem, Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez.
The most interesting thing about the EP is that the title track's subject matter isn't what you'd expect it to be. It's actually about a no-good cheater who's been coming to bed smelling like sex and cigarettes. It was smart to name the record after that song, because I'm sure it sparked some curiosity. Sadly, it's probable inquiring parties will quickly move on, because "there's nothing to see here."
Likes: Higher, Higher, Morning Light, Say Something, The Hard Stuff
Dislikes: Man of the Woods, Supplies
Overall: At best, it's mundane. At worst, it's southern farce that's almost insulting.
The debut promotional video for Justin Timberlake's fourth LP, Man of the Woods, shows him out and about in the elements. There are shots of snow, sun covered crops, desert landscapes, babbling brooks and crackling fires. In the voice-over, you hear buzz words like "wild West" and "earthy." JT proclaims that this "personal" record is the one most inspired by his Tennessee roots, in addition to his wife and child. The artwork has a split portrait of him before a winter forest; his apparel is part suit, part flannel/jeans. This is all to impress upon the listener that what they're about to hear will be rustic, raw and unveiling in an insightful and endearing way. In actuality, it's such a shallow, contrived and caricatured performance of 'down-home authenticity,' that it's off-putting and distancing.
Timberlake's birth state is the home of the blues (Memphis), bluegrass (Bristol) and country (Nashville). Yet, he fails so miserably to effectively employ their tools, it's as if he only has third-hand familiarity with them. Being an R&B/pop artist who hails from Memphis, you'd think blues would be the go-to framework for this album. Ain't a whiff of B.B. King anywhere. Barely any bluegrass either. Mechanisms of country are used in a sparse and decorative manner. This nearly nullifies the compliment that the genre is smoothly integrated with Timberlake's signature sound. "The Hard Stuff" and "Say Something" with Chris Stapleton is as 'Music City' as it gets. Making things worse, Timberlake uses woefully stereotypical (if not corny) imagery in the lyrics and song-titles to project 'rugged South' (ex. "Man of the Woods," "Flannel," "Living off the Land").
Heartfelt storytelling is one of the principal attributes of Tennessee music, but the writing on Man of the Woods is dispassionate, when it's not vacuous. There's a number of songs about relishing in the nourishment and comforts of companionship, but they're sketched out with generality and objectivity. Even when seemingly specific details are mentioned (ex. "Higher, Higher," "Montana"), it's hard to believe there is a singular, significant person who was a muse for this material. The composition and vocal delivery also aren't particularly emotive. "Say Something" has a spurring presentation (mostly thanks to Stapleton), but its point is unclear. Is it about hesitancy in making a statement about the world, your life, or both? Is it 'none of the above?' Thorough sincerity and sweetness is found on the previously referenced "The Hard Stuff" and "Flannel" (despite its tropes), as well as "Young Man." The former two emphasize being unyielding and reliable as a romantic partner. The first verse of the lullaby-like "Flannel" is especially dear, as Timberlake sings of emulating the pure and steadfast love of a parent. "Young Man" is a 'father's advice' dedication to his toddler son, Silas. In order to take Timberlake seriously as someone whose matured enough to give counsel, you'd have to forget the boyish sexual depictions earlier on the record (ex. "Filthy," "Man of the Woods," "Supplies"). "What you gonna' do with all that meat? Cooking up a mean serving, huh?," he asks on "Filthy." *Rolls eyes* "Supplies" is an utterly stupid song, where apocalyptic survival skills are a metaphor for his qualities as a mate. Of course, he has to prop his cojones once more: "Flew in on a 3 AM just to show up and hear your sounds; the multiple times...you ain't had it that way, I can guarantee you that...I'll be the wood when you need heat." None of the other cuts are idiotic like that one, but many are very repetitive and a few are thin in meaning.
Man of the Woods is the first JT album that isn't predominately produced by Timbaland. The Neptunes lead this charge. The music is still sleek-sexy-funky-cool, but it's disconcerting that the only new thing they brought to the table was a big dose of...flatness. On most tracks, the rhythms just loop around after a while. A couple feature Timberlake's hallmark melodic switches, which liven things up (ex. Midnight Summer Jam).
Justin Timberlake wanted to show us the softer side of his Sears with this endeavor. However, the inattention to theme, lean lyrics and cyclic production worked against him. Instead of appearing humbled, relatable and affable, he comes off as unplugged and out-of-touch. Miley Cyrus' journey back home was more convincing.
Likes: I Did Something Bad, Don't Blame Me, Dancing with Our Hands Tied, New Years Day
Dislikes: King of My Heart
Overall: A major stylistic departure, but still unequivocally Taylor.
When Taylor Swift declared that the "Old Taylor" was dead on the recent single "Look What You Made Me Do"), some feared an unwelcome change in sound was near. Swift's plain vocals and lovesick, acoustic-guitar laden country and pop made her a poster child for delightfully white-bread music. That noted, the darker, harder and dare I say it, R&B and hip-hop-influenced rhythms on the new Reputation are indeed a deviation. However, the project's careful conceptualization offsets the awkwardness that normally comes with jolting conversions.
Somewhere in the last 11 years, Swift went from being portrayed in the media as "America's Sweetheart" to "Regina George:" an untrustworthy, serial-dating Mean Girl. She tried to "Shake it Off" and scoff at this on her previous record, 1989, but her irritation has boiled to anger. She's officially had enough and is ready to war with it. She attacks her stigmas with a cocky, "bring it on" ferocity and mocks them by casually wearing her alleged persona. Take "I Did Something Bad:" after depicting herself as a cavalier player and romantic vengeance angel, she sings "They're burning all the witches, even if you aren't one. They got their pitchforks and proof, their receipts and reasons...Go ahead and light me up." Songs like "Delicate" and "Call it What You Want" show she isn't completely impervious, as she discloses her insecurities and fears regarding her public image and its ability to affect potential relationships. Moreover, she expresses her displeasure in becoming colder and more distant as a defense mechanism, following betrayals and fallouts (ex. "This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things"). Still, there's a tenor of defiance in the lyrics that's upheld by the forwardness in Swift's voice and the production's gristle. Deep thumps, throbs and rattles are a constant, even when besotted love (Swift's specialty) is the subject (ex. "King of My Heart," "Dress"). They're put up against synth warps, gunshot-like blasts, vocal echoes and whimsy to create a sinister feel. "Look's" light introduction is akin to a music-box before it twists into a predatory hunt soundtrack. Spontaneous switches in melody and beat from mashing to feathery are where "Old Taylor" rears her head (ex. "...Ready for It," "Dancing with Our Hands Tied"). Closing track "New Years Day" is the only time she's allowed to do more than just swoop in briefly. 1989 producers and songwriters Max Martin, Jack Antonoff and Shellback all returned to co-collaborate with Swift. At moments, the writing is a pinch "garden-variety" and some metaphors are repeated without apparent cause, but the dedication to the album's theme mostly sweeps this under the rug.
Listeners who were hankering for Swift to wholly depart from country, folk, and the like will adore Reputation. Pop fans who appreciated the tenderness brought in by country and folk's touch will perhaps prefer 1989. Regardless, there shouldn't be many complaints or claims that Taylor is unrecognizable on this record. The creative choices she made served to bring her point-of-view and emotions center-stage, and that's her M.O.
Likes: Would You Call That Love, I Don't Think About You
Dislikes: Whole Lotta Woman
Overall: Not the soul album it's promoted to be; vocal prowess is unevenly the focus
I've gotten to where I don't want to hear or read promotional interviews for upcoming albums, because it's so exasperating when the end product doesn't match the anticipation-triggering descriptions. Last summer, Kelly Clarkson announced that she inked a deal with Atlantic Records after her American Idol contract with RCA was alas fulfilled. Ever frank about her creative battles with her former label, she described the partnership as an "arranged marriage" and her 14-year-old discography as "suppressed." She gushed that she'd finally be able to do a project she and her fans have always wanted: a soul-spun record. I was elated, to say the least. Clarkson's husky and effortlessly affecting voice was built for the sphere of soul, blues and R&B. Unlike many, she's never had to strive for the delivery that characterizes the genres. Further, she has a knowledge of and a respect for their identities. She's also a bona fide songwriter, and the last time she was allowed to steer her own ship, she made an album that saved my life: My December.
Taking all that into account, it was befuddling and disappointing that Meaning of Life wasn't really that soulful and sounded impersonal. Once more, Clarkson had the tools to do core or traditional soul, but she played it safe. Though songs like "Whole Lotta Woman," "Cruel" and "Slow Dance" are more overtly propelled by soul, blues and R&B, most are just peppered with them. Pop is still very much the foundation here. "Whole Lotta Woman" is aggravatingly contrived. Stylistic pretense aside, the musical production is brisk, with pronouncing and lush instrumental arrangements. Jesse Shatkin and sibling-duo The Monarch are the central producers. Shatkin was a co-collaborator on Sia's "Chandelier" and worked on Clarkson's Piece by Piece. The Monarch (Sean and Andre Davidson) have frequently partnered with Chris Brown, DJ Khaled and Meek Mill.
The lyrics have their bromides, but merit and interesting angles (ex. "Medicine," "Slow Dance") help them stand. "Move You" is pretty cheesy, but when you concentrate on how its sentiments apply in your own life, you might be...moved. Despite any value the material holds, there's a strange disconnect between it and it's executor, Clarkson. Her vocal performance isn't unconvincing or withdrawn. In effect, she's so blistering and feisty, you can hear how much fun she's having (I better remembered ad-libs than words). Yet, you don't get the sense of an intimate stake. When I looked at the liner notes, I realized why that could be: she only co-wrote 4 songs. She allegedly has artistic license for the 1st time in her career, but she leans on pop and only does 4/15 tracks? Weird. If I didn't know any better, I'd think nothing changed.
Between the mild genre fluctuation and minimal "on-paper" input, one could suppose that the Meaning of Life for Kelly Clarkson was supremely about vocal freedom. On this record, she could rip and roar differently and comfortably in a way that she couldn't within the confines of patent pop and pop-rock. After all, she did tell the Toronto Star: “Really, my goal was to showcase my vocals so people will stop telling me, ‘My God! I didn’t know you could sing!’” For crying out-loud, you won a singing competition. Conceiving an album around the opinion of imbeciles led to disadvantageous tunnel-vision on vocals. Affability, personalization and accurate advertisement were matters left behind.
Favorites: Sorry Not Sorry, Tell Me You Love Me, Daddy Issues, Games, Smoke & Mirrors
Dislikes: Lonely, Instruction
Overall: Lovato finally focuses on R&B; her first comprehensively great album in a while
I was having a conversation about Demi Lovato's discography when my friend said this: "With Demi albums, you have a couple of gems--which are usually singles--and then a ton of filler. Clearly, she's talented and has a voice, but the albums can't stand as a whole." I didn't totally agree, but I could definitely understand that criticism. The last time I enjoyed something of hers on a comprehensive level was 2009's Here We Go Again. Just when that started to bug me, Tell Me You Love Me arrived consistent and easy to play through. To top it off, Lovato stopped tantalizing me with her R&B nibbles and finally committed to having a project fueled by the genre. I almost felt spoiled.
Tell Me You Love Me snatches your attention from its spunky onset, "Sorry Not Sorry," and never lets go. Its fullness in sound and atmospheric quality secures its verve and its iron grip on your ear. Regardless of tempo, every track booms. It seems the production was devised to give you the essence of being right there in the studio with Lovato and a band (ex. the title song). This is an essence that can only be captured listening to the CD directly or in a lossless digital format, such as .WAV. Computerized effects are used alongside and independent of live instruments, but they don’t diminish the vibrancy. They’re made to blend in or mimic the real deal. How about that; applying effects how they should be, instead of intentionally making “music” perfect for a video game? Several numbers have a rousing display, orchestral emulations (ex. "You Don't Do It for Me Anymore") and/or old-school morsels (ex. "Ruin the Friendship"). "Sexy Dirty Love," for instance, is "70's/80's funk meets futuristic pop," à la Timberlake. The record's main producers could be divided into 2 teams. Warren "Oak" Felder shares most of his 5 credits with Zaire Koalo and Trevor Brown, while Mitch Allan splits 7 with Scott Robinson. The 1st team previously collaborated with R&B singer Kehlani. A good amount of Allan's work is with American Idol alums and the Disney Channel. His and Robinson's "Hitchhiker" is the lone case where it's apparent a producer did more than 1 song. It's so musically similar to the preceding "Concentrate," it can't be enjoyed on its own. It's otherwise lovely.
Vocally, Lovato continues her campaign to show what she's made of. She compliments her LP's staginess, as she blows down doors and enticingly coos at all the right times. Moments that are flaunty and more obviously about performance (ex. "You Don't Do It for Me Anymore") are just as enjoyable as those that are emotionally driven (ex. "Smoke & Mirrors"). However, the stridence in her voice make you prefer the points where she rounds her notes and goes for power versus height. Many of her "money notes" are pretty piercing, such as at the climax of "Sorry Not Sorry's" bridge.
Likes: My Forever, My Man, Pick Me Up
Dislikes: The Makings of You
Overall: Braxton goes out with a forgettable fizzle, instead of a bang
Shortly before Tamar Braxton released her latest record, Bluebird of Happiness, she sent fans into a tizzy when she posted a picture of the cover with the caption, "This is my best and last album. Enjoy!" In the following days, she explained in an interview that she was stepping back from music to focus on her marriage, but will continue with television. I was skeptical this was her final LP (let's hope she's bluffing), but I didn't doubt it could be her best. Why? For starters, she wasn't posturing in her claims about 2015's Calling All Lovers, which corrected most of what was wrong with the preceding Love & War. 2nd, between a health crisis, quietly departing Epic Records for the independent eOne label, and suddenly getting fired from daytime's The Real, she had plenty to write about. Most importantly, the LP's title and symbolic artwork (Braxton is covered in glittering blue body paint and donning wings) just screamed "concept album!" Upon hearing the name, I did a little research and discovered there's a long history of the bluebird being used an emblem of happiness. However, as I began to listen, I was surprised to hear how off-base my presumptions were.
Not only was there nothing that could be perceived as addressing the aforementioned obstacles, there wasn't a tie-in to the purported theme anywhere. Bluebird didn't unfold like a story, where each track takes you through how trials were overcome and bliss was reached. There aren't even singular songs that do that. It isn't overwhelmingly joyous, warm and fuzzy, or full of "Love on Top's" either. As a matter of fact, it's structurally bipolar in that sense. For example, after the starry-eyed opener "My Forever," comes a tune about a guy who can't make up his mind (i.e. "Wanna Love You Boy"). In the middle of infidelity and breakup cuts is the praising mid-tempo "Pick Me Up." Many artists use intros, outros and interludes to pull everything together, but there isn't as much as a bird sound effect to tell or remind us what this album is all about.
Even independent of its crucial defect, this record disappointingly falls short. More perplexing than the premise being abandoned is how detached Braxton seems, despite emoting and singing beautifully. Perhaps this impression is emitted because the material sounds so uninspired. I hate Cher's 1998 hit "Believe," but I know nearly every word of it. It was made to penetrate my psyche, regardless of if I wanted it to or not. Whether it's one of the most well-written or powerful songs can be discussed, but in the very least, it won't be forgotten. It's like Braxton and her writing/production team's (which includes Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins and Troy Taylor) only aim was for the lyrics and music to not be comprehensibly subpar. Never mind arousing any feelings, be them like, love, hate or love to hate. Never mind holding any weight for years to come or beyond a 1st listen. Never mind going out with a bang (if Tamar is truly hanging her microphone up). My frustration with this was at its highest with "The Makings of You," which uses the 1974 Gladys Knight & The Pips' rendition of the Curtis Mayfield classic. It so heavily depended on the Pips' take, it might as well have been a cover. The portions that were altered were unremarkable. You don't conjure up Mayfield to be basic. It was almost blasphemous. Some other songs that stand out for only their samples are "Wanna Love You Boy" and "Pick Me Up." The former pulls from Robin Thicke's "Wanna Love You Girl" and lyrically from Fantasia's "Free Yourself," which made me chuckle. The latter is an interpolation of Evelyn "Champagne" King's 80's signature "Love Come Down."
Bluebird's "just passable" R&B gave me a flashback of Love & War that I didn't want. Braxton didn't push herself and, ultimately, sold herself short. If she doesn't come out of retirement for any other reason, it should be to create a more suitable bookend.
Likes: Week Without You, Miss You So Much, Bad Mood, Inspired
Overall: Miley returns to her pop-rock/country roots; delivers sincerity
After 2008's pop-rock Breakout, singer-songwriter Miley Cyrus diverted from any artistic potential she showed to do a demonstration of the "teen-to-adult-star" playbook. In 2010, she traded out her guitar for a techno kit, hoping to prove she Can't Be Tamed by doing her best Britney Spears impression. When that didn't work, she problematically relied on hip-hop's counterculture stigma to shed her image as a Disney star with 2013's Bangerz. Now that her (unnecessary) mission is accomplished, she's released the kind of album she should have been doing all along with the heartfelt Younger Now. Written and produced exclusively by Cyrus and Oren Yoel (Cyrus' godmother and country legend Dolly Parton worked on the exception, "Rainbowland"), its sincerity is insulated. The perspective isn't convoluted or contaminated by a plethora of contributors (by the way, Yoel was a previous partner on the Bangerz single "Adore You").
Cyrus' submissions about personal growth (ex. "Younger Now"), the world around her (ex. "Inspired") and romantic relationships emanate like poetry written on a late-night after mulling over life. The resentment and discontent is seething (ex. "Love Someone"), the longing is doleful (ex. "Miss You So Much"), and the adoration is boundlessly love-struck (ex. "I Would Die for You"). "Thinkin'" is the only glossy track that isn't a pool of feelings. The lyrics' touchy energy is underpinned by the musical production. The sentimental sweetness has a dramatic crust, as acoustic rock is happily married with templates of classic country and western-film score (ex. "Bad Mood"). Cyrus is so cozily at home on this record and it's palpable.
Likes: Deliver, Bridges
Dislikes: He Like That, Angel
Overall: Generic material that's just "cute for now"
When a music group or band loses a member, it's expected that their next project will noticeably reflect the change; particularly if the absent party was pivotal and/or popular. In the best case scenario, an altered troupe will use the opportunity to constructively rebrand and come out stronger. At worst, things just won't be the same for the fans and some will scatter. For Fifth Harmony, who became a quartet with the contentious exit of favorite Camilla Cabello last year, it's almost like nothing's changed with their new self-titled album. That might come as a relief to some, but it's concerning to me.
What's been a consistent issue for Fifth Harmony is that they don't have a distinct musical quality. Their
sassy debut LP, Reflection, captured their confident energy, and the following 7/27 had lyrical improvements, but both were generic and transitory in totality. Anyone could've done those records. Despite the member's having writing credits on 5/10 songs, a difficult situation to sing about, and a need to prove they can rise from the ashes, Fifth Harmony is more of the same basic jingle jangles. Less than half way through each track, you know the whole story musically and lyrically. There are no surprises or curve balls, no slivers of mystery or intrigue. Though bits are catchy, there's nothing you can't live without or can't get anywhere else in a variety of places. The album is so "another day at the office," a few cuts sound like 7/27 reincarnations (ex. "Don't Say You Love Me" is similar to "Write On Me"). Producers include "Work from Home's" Joshua "Ammo" Coleman, Selena Gomez collaborator duo DreamLab, Skrillex and The Stereotypes. It's no surprise that one of the songs I liked the most, "Deliver," was done by The Stereotypes, as they had a hand in most of Danity Kane's discography (another girl-group I enjoyed). Most of this record's producers show up only once in the liner notes, so it's curious that the ordinariness is so steady throughout. I'll give the team points for putting 5H's vocals front and center, however. The number of beauteous harmonies is still painfully low, but their individual parts are well-spread and are given the clarity to not have to compete against rhythms.
The content is a regression from 7/27's heartfelt upgrades, being bare -wire and simple. "Bridges," which was co-penned by 5H's own Ally Hernandez and Lauren Jauregui, is the lone standout. A socio-political unity ode, it's a direct response to President Donald Trump's divisiveness: "We won't separate, we know love can conquer hate, so we build bridges; bridges, not walls." Another line I love is: "I believe every woman is a fighter, and I believe every man can stand beside her." There was reason to believe this album's material would be laudable and/or noteworthy, beyond the motivation of Cabello's departure. Jauregui is very vociferous about social matters; I anticipated she'd have plenty of credits and there would be more than 1 song like "Bridges." She only contributed to 2 songs (the other being "Sauced Up"); Hernandez had the most with 4 ("Sauced Up," "Make You Mad," "Messy" and "Bridges").
Perhaps everything stayed in place here for fear that breaking away would be too much change for the group's beloved "Harmonizers" (their fan-base's name). Maybe it was their usual culmination of factors: they were slapped together and at a young age, the current industry bar is set low, and their handlers view them as radio robots and not a distinguishable force. That's my theory, anyway. They aren't given material or a branding path that's designed to help them stand the test of time. I'm sure that retaining their name (regardless of being a quartet) and attaching it to this record was intended to make a statement about their resilience and definition. I don't think they want to be limited to or defined by "flash-in the pan" tracks, though.
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