Likes: For You, Stone Cold, Wildfire, Father
Overall: Passionately done; don't care for the hip-hop and techno elements
For the last 3 album eras, I've had pre-release jitters that I will lose Demi Lovato to the pop idiocy and immature hyper-sexuality that, for whatever reason, comes with an artist hitting their early 20's. Either a single or an interview quote makes me think "Oh no, here it comes." During her press tour for the seductive panty-experiment bit "Cool for the Summer," she repeatedly described her forthcoming music as 'provocative' and expressed an artistic admiration for the often polemical Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. I feared tricks, tackiness and shock value were ahead with Confident, but as the last 2 times, Lovato teaches that "everything is not what it seems." The 23-year-old keeps cutting through the customary trappings to show development or sustainability in either a small or large way. When her writing credits were chopped to less than half on 2011's Unbroken and she had to compete with more than 25 other scribes on the follow-up, Demi (both LP's were littered with swanky songs that didn't sound like her), she fought for presence with vocal maturation and touches of Lovato-lyricism. Not to get lost in the waves again, she held on tight with both hands to the surface this round. From top to bottom, Confident is commensurate with its title.
Aggression is an active ingredient here, with tramping hooks, exerted singing and fervent lyrics. The smatterings of hip-hop and electronic-pop imply a chasing of trends (ex. they slap rap verses on everything these days; a feature by a caricature like Iggy Azalea is particularly unnecessary), but its synchronization with the record's attitude makes it seem like a conscious decision versus a ploy. Testing herself vocally, Lovato bellows and applies deliberate styling on tracks like "Stone Cold" (ex. mimicking a gospel/soul wail on the 'know that I am' chorus-line) and "Wildfire" (one of her first attempts at sultriness). In an age where big, beautiful and skilled voices are like four-leafed clovers, it's commendable that she'd push herself. However, it's audible that proper technique wasn't employed, distracting from her efforts and making it even clearer that she's a part of the "diva extinction" generation. The industry doesn't hone, protect and train talent like they used to. That's why you have singers stepping into shoes before they can fit them and experiencing cord injuries, like Adele, Ariana Grande and Meghan Trainor have, but that's a conversation for another day. On "Stone," for example, Demi's attempted belts and wails land as shouts and oddities (especially when it was performed on SNL). The song itself is problematically structured. Instead of progressing, it power-plays from the 1st chorus.
When an artist fiddles and tries so many things out at once, it can end badly, but Lovato pulls it all together. If she truly has no idea what's she's doing, you can hardly tell. I'm most smitten with how incensed she sounds; she's like a fire-breathing dragon. She seems to be feeling every ounce of what she's singing. The tenacity I respect. The genre choices for Confident aren't my favorite, so I'll likely have only a few songs on repeat. I quite miss that acoustic guitar and pop-rock. Her sophomore album, Here We Go Again, remains my darling...at least until she releases a soul/R&B record, that is.