Selena’s approach was to do less. She hoped to show more of herself on the subtle, alt-leaning pop songs of Revival. Demi, on the other hand, decide to do more. The 23-year-old vamped it up with a sexy new image, jumped on all the trends sound-wise and turned her back (to some extent) on the vulnerable, confessional tone of her previous material. There’s no right or wrong approach, but if you’re going to relaunch as an irreverent pop siren like Teenage Dream-era Katy Perry, you better have an album full of surefire hits to back it up. And Confident is lacking in that department.
Which is surprising given the quality of the first two singles. Sexy synth-anthem “Cool For The Summer” is one of the best pop songs of 2015, while the title track (another Max Martin production) boasts a monster chorus and more hooks than an art gallery. It’s an intimidating one-two punch, but the rest of the album is a little undercooked and plagued by dated production. The trap and dub-step breakdowns are particularly confusing.
Take “For You.” The vocal is borderline-deafening (why is Demi screaming like she’s being electrocuted?) and I’m pretty sure those beats originate from Britney Spears’ Femme Fatale album. “Waitin For You” is even more questionable. The lyrics are terrible (“be the bandaid when I bleed, but I guess that bandaid was all made of paper”) and the trap-inspired production evokes 2014. I’m also a little torn on “Kingdom Come.”
It’s a moody and evocative track, which shows the “Heart Attack” hitmaker in a slinky new light. I love the dark and dangerous soundscape and applaud Iggy Azalea for delivering a memorable and amusing verse (“gather round now, I’m back from my holiday!”), but the song inexplicably transforms into “Black Widow” at the end. Apart from that, it’s extremely enjoyable. “Old Ways” proves the diva can experiment with a hip-hop arrangement and still connect on a very personal level (“I’m not burning out, I’m not afraid anymore”). If only the chorus was stronger.
She doesn’t face that problem, however, on album highlights “Wildfire” and “Yes.” The former finds Demi singing about a destructive relationship that she’s just not willing to let go of, while the latter is a more traditional love song. They both excel at creating fresh and original soundscapes for the pop star to explore. She sounds so much more convincing on these quirky, offbeat anthems than trying to come to terms with overblown club-bangers.
As usual, Demi really comes into her own on the ballads. “Stone Cold,” or “Someone Like You” for millennials, showcases the full range of those powerful pipes, while “Lionheart” finds the Complex centerfold pulling the trigger like never before. I particularly like the song’s self-help angle, which brought back memories of Demi. That takes us to the most powerful song on the album. If “Father” doesn’t stir your emotions, it’s time to see a therapist.
In case you’re wondering about the bonus tracks, “Stars” is well worth a listen. Helmed by the ever-reliable Rami Yacoub, it’s an upbeat pop song with a killer chorus. “Mr. Hughes” is less essential, but Demi sounds great against the retro-R&B production. All in all, Confident is a perplexing album. The superstar succeeds in reinventing herself, I’m just not sure as what.
Idolator Score: 3/5
— Mike Wass