Demi Lovato called her last album Unbroken. Even if the title track was a love song, that name still felt like a reference to the comeback Lovato forged following a widely publicized breakdown that transformed her — from a Disney princess to a troubled teenager to a young woman whose public platform was all about recovery, both personally and professionally.
Two years later, she’s releasing a new LP, but this one is simply titled Demi, and that makes perfect sense in a funny sort of way. There’s no need for a canny titular shoutout to some thematic cohesion: After notching the biggest single of her career with last year’s “Give Your Heart a Break” and a banner season showing her mettle as a judge on The X Factor, where she routinely upstaged Britney Spears as the most empathetic and engaged member of the panel, Lovato doesn’t have anything to prove anymore. She’s just herself.
Accordingly, Demi Lovato’s Demi, her fourth studio album (out on Hollywood Records) is her most cohesive effort to date, a pop album that’s classy and smart, even as it plays it safe. It’s not a deeply confessional album, nor defined by its sonic risks: Demi is polished commercial pop, but it’s as great as polished commercial pop comes. The ballads are appropriately squishy, the uptempo tracks are alternately sweet and sassy.
If there isn’t anything here that feels as raw in its anguish as “Skyscraper” did (her vocal performance in that song is brilliant, and nothing sort of unhinged), there’s still plenty of magical moments — virtually every song has a chorus that soars spectacularly, giving Lovato a chance to make mincemeat of those melodies with her wild mezzo-soprano. Lead single ”Heart Attack” is buzzing, fizzing faux-dubstep decadence, edgy enough to feel grown-up, while the likely next single “Made in the USA” is a cheesy grin of a song, goofy and crowd-pleasing in its sincerity. (And that chorus!) The militant beat of “Two Pieces” gives way to a storming refrain, while she goes lighter on the irresistibly spunky “Really Don’t Care,” featuring Cher Lloyd (whose presence on the track is totally perfunctory) and the bratty “Something That We’re Not,” which sounds like a lost cut from her sophomore LP. (Less dazzling is the by-the-numbers “Neon Lights,” which serves more as a concession to pop-EDM trend-following that’s out of place here.)
The ballads, though, are where she demolishes best. “Nightingale” and “Warrior” are both triumphant slices of melodrama, but even better is the heartbreakingly detailed “In Case,” which comes to life more vibrantly than any other on the record. Melodically and vocally, though, the standout is “Shouldn’t Come Back,” which sees her dialing back the theatrics and showing a restraint that’s equally impressive.
Aside from “Warrior,” which has a nice inspirational bent, there’s nothing here that feels as borne from the ashes as the most visceral moments on Unbroken, so at times Demi feels impersonal, but it’s hard to fault her for that; after all those confessional interviews and revealing performances, she’s bared her soul enough, hasn’t she? This isn’t an album about making a statement — it’s an album about herself as she is now. Accordingly, Demi is vibrant, dynamic and pretty much together, and it’s likable in its imperfections. So is Demi.
The Best Song Wasn’t The Single: It’s another case of a song that’s arguably the album’s best being relegated to bonus-track status: The Target deluxe edition has a spare guitar ballad with a wobbly ambient chorus called “I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me” that’s deranged, heartbreaking and totally awe-inspiring.
Pops Like: A young Kelly Clarkson, with double the pop shellack and a lot more unpacked baggage.
Full Disclosure: At the risk of dwelling too much on Lovato’s past, it’s worth noting how she’s proven that a young starlet (with a Disney pedigree, no less) can be brutally candid about struggling with litany of issues (addiction, mental illness, eating disorders, self-harm) and still be a commercially viable pop star and personality, commanding an army of underage and adult fans who consider her a role model. It’s nothing short of miraculous, and it makes me admire her a whole lot.