Album Review: Selena Gomez – Revival

There is nothing I love more than to dissect a good pop album, especially when the subject is an expertly crafted piece of ear candy delivered by one of the premiere sex kittens of the moment. When Selena Gomez made her comeback last autumn with the slinky “Good For You” I was suitably impressed by her musical and visual progression which meant that anticipation was high for her album Revival.  Up till this moment Selena Gomez albums have been fun, carefree affairs containing bubblegum and electropop bangers which helped her reach a global audience. However, I never felt she hadn’t quite managed to pin down her sound, which is probably why she has yet to attain the level of recognition or commercial success as, say, Ariana Grande or Demi Lovato.  In fact, I would go as far as to say that Gomez’ image is surprisingly low key compared to her contemporaries, which is partially down to her relatively scandal-free life. She even managed to navigate her break-up with Justin Bieber with a level of grace and elegance which was previously thought to be out of reach for former child stars. It’s certainly true that Gomez has never courted controversy like her peers and that may go some way to explaining why most of her fellow Disney stars have had numerous chart toppers and global hits, whereas Gomez has (somewhat unfairly) failed to score a hit on the level of “Wrecking Ball”, “Problem” or “Heart Attack”. To tell the truth, while perfectly pleasant, Gomez’ music has never really been that exciting or sonically innovative. That is, until now. Singles “Good For You” and “Same Old Love” have both managed to become bonafide hits in her homeland, marking her first appearance in the top 5 of the US Billboard Hot 100 and indeed the first time she has enjoyed multiple top ten hits from one album in that territory. There is a perceptible buzz around her music now which wasn’t really there before the release of her latest studio project Revival. On the 23rd January she even bagged herself a coveted spot on American TV staple Saturday Night Live (see her performance of current single “Hands to Myself” here) which is a massive coup for Selena and will serve as a big promotional push for Revival. But does her new music live up to the hype?

Gomez fans can breathe a sigh of relief as the answer to this question is a resounding yes. Revival is for all intents and purposes Gomez’ coming of age record. She has stated in several interviews that her main influence in making this record was none other than Christina Aguilera’s feisty Stripped album which saw the previously squeaky clean diva go from nice to naughty in the blink of an eye, adopting an edgier persona and harder musical sound. Selena wears her influences firmly on her sleeve on Revival but it’s far from a tired rehash of Stripped. It may have the same goal of self-liberation in mind but the approach and delivery is all Gomez. It’s always been apparent that she isn’t the best vocalist, especially compared to her peers Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato but Selena’s saving grace is that she is fully aware of this and instead chooses to turn this into a point of difference which helps her stand out among the big-voiced divas. This is a smart move and one which I felt she never really fully embraced until the release of steamy torch jam and lead single from Revival “Good For You”. You know people say less is more? Well it’s not always bullshit and, “Good For You” is a prime example of this. The bogus appearance of A$AP Rocky is totally unneeded but if it helped the buying public understand the track better or make it more accessible then kudos to her record label Interscope/Polydor. It was actually quite a brave lead single in terms of the sound and theme. Miley matured with the help of a wrecking ball, Britney declared herself a slave 4 u and Christina got full on dirrty. Unlike all these tracks “Good For You” is neither showy nor attention grabbing. It’s actually quite understated which could have led it to it slipping under the radar and what a shame that would have been. Also, on “Good For You” Gomez sings about enjoying being somebody else’s and looking good for a man which sends out an anti-feminist message. It’s curious that she was allowed to get away with this whereas many other popstars would have received a tirade of abuse for promoting similar values.

Second single “Same Old Love” treads new musical ground for Gomez with some interesting instrumentation, including a wonky piano loop and some funky Italo disco synths. The single has proven to be another commercial success, landing Gomez her second US top 5 single from Revival. While I am happy for the success of the single and would definitely agree that it sounds great on the radio, I would hasten to add that it is somewhat out of context on Revival. While most of the album is either electropop or R&B-tinged pop “Same Old Love” sticks out like a sore thumb. Third single “Hands to Myself” is far more representative of the body of work as a cohesive piece and incidentally is my track pick from the entire album. The track was produced by Swedish pop geniuses Max Martin, who has been behind some of the biggest pop hits ever (from “…Baby One More Time” to “Can’t Feel my Face”), and Mattman and Robin (Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Run Away With Me” and Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do”).  Lyrically “Hands to Myself” leans more towards “Good For You” on the sexiness spectrum but, while the latter enjoys a sexily lazy pace, the former is benefits from a tribal minimalist percussion line which keeps the whole track bubbling deliciously under the surface with seductive moans and groans thrown in for good measure. For all its addictiveness, “Hands to Myself” is a relatively simplistic pop song as pop songs go nowadays which gives Gomez’ vocals the rare opportunity to take centre stage. Her clipped, whispery delivery of “Can’t-keep-my-hands-to-my-self” is staccato genius at its best and beautifully contrasted with her belting on the pre-chorus. But the star line and arguably one of the best lines in pop ever is undoubtedly the indulgently self-aware “I mean I could but why would I want to”. That is pop at its best.

Other picks include the tropical-house influenced “Kill ‘Em With Kindness” which features on of the most infectious whistle hooks known to man and “Sober” on which Gomez laments her lover’s inability to show true affection without alcohol. Sadly, this is a problem which is all too common nowadays Selena. Overall, Gomez and her team have pitched this one just right, exploring a good range of genres and sounds on Revival while maintaining a cohesive sound for the most part, something which eludes most mainstream pop albums. Gomez has never sounded more comfortable on her own skin which the public have obviously picked up on, leading to more people connecting with her music than ever. Gomez has matured into a mature, confident woman who is not afraid of her own sexuality. Rarely has a tweeny bopper managed to make the transition to adult popstar with such grace or musically rewarding results.

Thank you for reading! Please feel free to like, share and comment. 🙂

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