Likes: Lose You to Love Me, Crowded Room, Cut You Off
Overall: More authentic than Revival. Solid lyrical content. A minimalist musical approach done right.
Selena Gomez declared a Revival four years ago with her last album, but it was premature. The material denoted someone in the thickety-thick-thick of despondency, rather than on the other side of it. Its coarse language and sexual themes were so contrived, it was evident Gomez was still grasping her identity and womanhood.
The new Rare more authentically presents Gomez as self-aware and revivified. Conceptually, it’s a cautionary tale about the hazards of unhealthy interpersonal relationships (ex. “Lose You to Love Me”) and forgetting your worth (ex. The title track). It also candidly relays that recovering and learning from past experiences is as complex as having them in the first place. Among the challenges are facing individual accountability (ex. “Look at Her Now”), disenchantment (ex. “People You Know”), trying to maintain emotional availability (ex. “Vulnerable”), and relapsing into bad habits and patterns (ex. “Fun”). Ordinarily, these subjects would be discussed in an impassive, detached, unimaginative, crude and/or tasteless way. 'Vapid and vulgar' is the standard for much of today’s popular music. Apparently, Gomez and her co-writers understood that true commitment to their narrative meant actually being creative and impassioned. The list of lyricists include Julia Michaels, Justin Tranter (both worked on Revival), Bebe Rexha, Nolan Lambroza, Caroline Ailin, Chloe Angelides and Scott Harris Friedman. Despite there being over 30 contributors in total, Rare’s content is very cohesive. Femme fatale tune “Ring” is the only song that seems off-topic.
The musical approach is also consistent, though there are far fewer producers than songwriters. Teams Mattman & Robin and The Monsters were on the boards, along with Sir Nolan, Simon Says, Bart Schoudel, Ben Rice, Alex Hope and several others. Minimalism with tracks, arrangements, and the like is one way to exude sensitivity and spotlight vocals, but it’s not foolproof. Possible consequences are being unattractive, boring or rudimentary. Gomez’s team avoided these downfalls by building ambiance and referencing various genres outside of pop.
What the layers of instruments and effects lacked in number, they made up for in presence. The resounding quality allows for focused listening, where you can clearly hear every item and word. There’s a sonic intimacy, reminiscent of a live acoustic set in close quarters. This, with all the deep-tones and style variations, creates drama and holds attention. Synths—pianos, guitars and bass—dominate. “Let Me Get Me” stands out with its suggestions of Latin. “Kinda Crazy” is kinda funky, with its groovy guitars and jazzy horns. “Crowded Room” phones R&B, and “Cut You Off” sings the blues in its breakdown. “Cut’s” deliberate irony in having a cozy feel with ‘kiss off’ lyrics is amusing. I so enjoy songs like that; it’s why I fell in love with Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable.” This foursome of tracks is in the latter half of the LP. There, fans will find a heavier dose of what they’re used to hearing from Gomez: catchy and flirtatious ditties.
Vocally, there are no changes to report. Gomez’s finite and breathy pipes shine most on smoky cuts like “Crazy.”
Sexy, heart-tugging and well-executed, Rare has you wanting to know more about Selena Gomez’s professed ‘rise from the ashes.’ It's also not a bad musical start to 2020.