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.
The deluxe version adds cuts wherein Lovato is a featured artist (i.e. Jax Jones' "Instruction" and Cheat Codes' "No Promises"), and a groovy acoustic arrangement of "Sorry Not Sorry" with a choir (she's definitely a "savage" for having a choir sing expletives, haha). The samba, reggaeton-like "Instruction" sounds so far from what Lovato would do instinctively, it's distracting. The acoustic remix of "No Promises" gels in better, but it still doesn't bare necessity. Listeners may feel they have entered "throw-away" territory and stop short of the Target edition's wonderful "Smoke & Mirrors" and "Ready for Ya," which would be a shame. It's a credit to this record that only the features are filler (I should alert my friend). Almost every song has been stuck in my head.
Tell Me You Love Me's Grade A ingredients allow it to be unified, while being many things at once. It's vulnerable, yet sexy and fun. It's chic and general-consensus attractive, but not vacuous. It's sure to be a new favorite for fans, and a sealing introduction to an audience who may have overlooked Demi Lovato before.