Demi Lovato has grown up in the public eye from the time she appeared on “Barney & Friends” through her Disney Channel series “Sonny With A Chance” to her current stint as an “X Factor” judge, with many of the challenges she faced as she transitioned from a Disney star to an adult on display.
She’s candidly and bravely funneled some of her experiences, including her struggles that ultimately led to her spending time in a treatment center and being diagnosed as bi-polar, into her material, such as on 2011’s “Skyscraper.” Her largely female teen audience has embraced her for her ability to sing about complicated issues in an uncomplicated fashion in a manner that rings true and full of self discovery and hope, yet seldom sugary.
So there’s reason to believe that when she calls an album, “Demi,” as she has her fourth collection, out May 14, that she will be revealing some thing about herself in a way that we may not have previously experienced. Sadly, for much of “Demi,” that is not the case.
The problem with “Demi” is that too much of the music here is so generic that it could be any teen queen—or king, the peppy “Something That We’re Not” is melodically cut from the same cloth as any number of One Direction songs—delivering these tunes.
Almost every song can be matched to previous pop hit: “Made In The USA” sounds like Kelly Clarkson’s “Already Gone,” with a very heavy kick drum (surprisingly, the song was not written by Ryan Tedder, who co-wrote “Gone,” but he does show up as a co-writer on the “Firework”-like “Neon Lights”) “Really Don’t Care,” featuring Cher Lloyd, who adds a Ke$ha-like rap in the middle, sounds like Icona Pop’s “I Love It.” Similarly, the dance-tinged “Never Been Hurt” could be a cousin to Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
Lovato has a strong voice many levels above the typical teen star and she’s striving to appear grown up, as first single “Heart Attack” showed. She shines when the lyrics resonate with a depth that seems to match an emotional level we know she possesses.
When the often overly-produced album strips away enough bells and whistles to focus on her vocals, such as on“Shouldn’t Come Back,” a spare, emotional ballad that may be about her estranged father and how tired she is of being so sad and mad, the results are strikingly poignant. She delivers the song with a depth of feeling that is missing on much of the rest of the tunes. She does not have to open a vein and bleed on every track, but “Shouldn’t Come Back” only highlights what she is capable of achieving...and she is capable of achieving a lot.
Similarly, though “Warrior” sounds like a Christina Aguilera track circa 2006, Lovato sells the tale of a survivor so convincingly that she makes the song her own.
For those who are looking for a largely uptempo album that fits squarely into much of the pop landscape on radio today, “Demi” will be a pleasing fit. For fans who gravitate toward songs like “Shouldn’t Come Back” and “Warrior,” “Demi” will serve as a sign of the depth that Lovato can reach and will hopefully strive for as she continues to find her own voice.