Album – Dancing With the Devil… The Art of Starting Over
Demi Lovato is an American pop singer and actress. Rising to fame almost instantly with her role in Disney’s Camp Rock alongside The Jonas Brothers in 2008, Demi quickly released her debut solo album that same year with Hollywood records. Releasing a further five albums with the label across the next nine years, the singer has since suffered from a rather public battle with depression, bulimia, drugs and alcohol, leading to the stars near death experience in 2018. Since then, she has been to rehab and become clean and sober again. Her new album released last week, Dancing with the Devil… addresses a lot of her experiences in that difficult year of her life. I’m pretty excited to check this out, I didn’t mind a lot of her earlier, slightly rockier stuff, although I admit I’ve not listened to a lot of her stuff from the last decade. I haven’t really reviewed much pop on here yet, too, outside of the latest Miley or MGK albums, both of which were still quite rocky at times. I am curious to see what her music will be like now though as it surrounds such a sensitive, personal subject, so join me in checking it out!
A quick note before we begin: I realised quickly that I cannot cover this album quite like the others I have done with the more play by play style, not enough is going on in a lot of it and this review would get terribly repetitive. I will still try to talk about every song the best I can, but if I skip over stuff, at least now you know why!
Anyone is fantastic. The whole song is just Demi ‘talking to her piano’, highlighting her struggles of how she felt like she had no one to talk to when she was slipping back into her self-destructive ways. It gives her voice such an incredible chance to shine, arguably sounding better than it ever has before. The power behind it is amazing and just adds even more emotion to the already heart-tugging lyrics. And her vocal runs and melodies are amazing, she glides effortlessly between low and high notes. This had to make the playlist, no matter how sad the subject matter is, this is a performance of a lifetime and honestly gave me goosebumps.
The first half of the album title and the most recent single, Dancing With the Devil, is up next. It leans more into the pop side of her style than anything else, having a lot more electronic sounds and drums layered on top of the keys and very occasional guitars. It’s another great song though, this time Demi speaking openly about her drug and alcohol misuse, saying she was ‘closer than you know’ to heaven. It’s some painfully honest lyric writing and some that command a lot of respect from anyone who listens to it. The woman is at least owning up to her mistakes and is in a position where her songwriting is cathartic. I feel almost rude saying I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the previous one, but at the end of the day I am still doing this as a review, so I kind of have to put my opinion in here sometimes. The chorus is fantastic too, the music behind it made it all sound MASSIVE.
ICU is another one like the opening track that is just Demi’s vocals and her piano work. It is another fantastic, emotional ballad, the song title alone having such a sad but very imaginative double meaning. Plus, it is a beautiful and touching song dedicated to her half-sister, Madison De La Garza, the two clearly being close. Again, I think the opening song just edges this one out in terms of my favourite so far, but this is a damn close second. Demi’s vocals again are the highlight of this track, some of the best in pop (or just music in general) today.
After a short monologue track, we get the second half of the album title, The Art of Starting Over. It already has a little more of an upbeat feel to it, that simple drumbeat and clean, simple guitar chord combo that seems far too prevalent in pop music these days (thanks Maroon Five). However, after a few slower tracks it is nice for this album to change the pace a little and shift up a gear. This was the closest to what I would call a modern-day pop song so far, not that that is necessarily a bad thing. I have to admit it didn’t do an awful lot for me, a lot of modern pop sounds pretty similar to my ears, but it was by no means a bad song. The chorus was pretty catchy and it had a very chilled vibe over all, which is always nice.
Lonely People finally brings back the pop rock feeling of her first couple of albums again, and I for one am all for it! Centered around some simple palm-muted guitars and various amazing vocal parts, it is a pretty basic song. However, the gang vocals in the chorus was what really did if me, it sounded huge and was very, very catchy; I’m already worried it’s going to be stuck in my head for days now. Plus, I always like it when actual instruments are a focal point of a pop song these days as it really doesn’t happen anywhere near enough. Playlisted!
The Way You Don’t Look at Me slows the pace back down again, this time Demi playing an acoustic guitar behind her vocals instead of a piano. It’s another beautiful song but it’s not quite as good as the other slow songs on the album so far.
Melon Cake channels Demi’s inner Taylor Swift, it sounding an awful lot like Blank Space on my first listen, even down to a similar bassline (the Stand By Me one). This one gave off a similar vibe to me as Lonely People, if you’re a fan of that kind of style of music then you’ll probably love it. There are definitely some great elements to the song; I just wish it had gone slightly harder and rockier at parts.
Next, we reach the first song to feature a guest on the album, one of the biggest names in pop these days in Ariana Grande. The song, Met Him Last Night, is not great. It’s VERY pop, more-so than every other song on the album up to this point. Also, as a matter of personal preference, I cannot stand Ariana’s vocals. They’re that high most of the time that it just really grates on me, and her overkill of notes is on full display here. Plus, it doesn’t feel like a coincidence that she appears on one of the most sexual of the songs lyrically, it seems to be all she can sing and write about. Either way, I’m sure there are people out there that like this, but it was slow, low and quite frankly boring; only seeming to exist as a way of both women showing off their impressive high note hitting. I’d give this one a pass on a second listen.
Time for another single, this time featuring Sam Fischer (not to be confused with Sam Fisher), What Other People Say. This was a pretty good song, overall. Another slow, ballad-type song, this one actually benefitted a lot from the duet style vocals. Fischer’s lower, slightly raspier vocals complimented Demi’s vocals pretty well, a great contrast between the two. I do have to say the song got fairly repetitive by the end, but hey, it’s a pop song, what do you expect? Nearly making it onto the playlist, there was just something about this that stopped me from adding it. I am yet to work out quite what, though, it just doesn’t feel as amazing as the other two already on there do.
Carefully sees a massive shift lyrically, it being the first truly optimistic song on the album. It speaks of her meeting someone who actually makes her happy, a great feat after experiencing everything she has sung about up to this point. It was an enjoyable song lyrically too, slow and pretty simple, revolving around some simply acoustic guitars and electric drums behind the vocals.
This seems to set the tone for the following eight songs on the album. Yes, that isn’t a typo, I said eight. That is an issue with this album for me, it is VERY bloated and SO damn long. Just under an hour’s worth of music spread across 19 songs, in my opinion, is too much. Especially when, in my opinion at least, a lot of the back half of the album could be cut and it would up the quality significantly.
In all honesty, it feels like two completely different albums. Everything up until Carefully felt like a deeply personal look into Demi’s life the last few years. It was raw, slow, full of emotion and sadness and honestly fantastic. Then the second half of the album feels largely like a generic pop album; the same as every other sex-and-love-driven album that is currently in the pop charts.
It just makes me sad that someone who looked to be following in the footsteps of Pink, Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson in their fantastic female fronted pop rock has… well… followed all three of the women I have just mentioned into trying to stay hip and relevant by making the same sort of music as every other young pop girl does these days. Man, it’s sad that pop rock died a death. Thanks again Maroon Five (although this one is on Coldplay too this time).
I feel I have strayed a little too far from my point so I shall try and bring it back around. There are definite highlights in this latter half, with California Sober being an uplifting song about her current, vastly improved situation. However, between the likes of the meh, repetitive Butterfly and the frankly terrible, new Katy Perry-esque My Girlfriends Are my Boyfriends, there is a lot of rubbish pop on here. Oh, and a middling cover of the iconic Tears for Fears song Mad World. Why anyone would want to touch that song after the frankly perfect Michael Andrews cover from Donnie Darko, I don’t know! Yeah, I really don’t know what else to say about this album now, I would have happily had California Sober after Carefully and cut the other seven songs entirely.
Overall: I have such mixed feelings with this album. As I have said to death at this point, the first half of it is incredible, but the second half was such as negative contrast for me. If and when I listen to this album again, I’ll be happily turning it off halfway through, and I honestly think that is where the album should have ended. Still, Demi is an immensely talented woman, and her vocals and guitar/piano playing here were all amazing.
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