Selena Gomez’s ‘Revival’: Album Review

Mike Wass | October 9, 2015 5:15 am
The transition from micro-managed teen idol to adult pop star is never easy, but Selena Gomez makes the leap with rare confidence and grace on Revival — a winning addition to the canon of reins-taking, independence-declaring female pop albums that can be traced back to Janet Jackson’s Control. (Other important examples include Kylie Minogue’s Impossible Princess and Christina Aguilera’s Stripped).

As much as I love the frothy pop of Selena’s Disney discography, you never got a glimpse of the woman behind the song. That changed on autobiographical For You single “The Heart Wants What It Wants” and the trend continues on Revival. She lays out her personal mantra on the title track, hits back at haters (in her own gentle way) on “Kill ‘Em With Kindness” and hints at past relationship woes on “Same Old Love” and “Perfect.”

However, the album isn’t all brooding and introspection. Selena clearly wants (long-term) fans to come along on her journey of self-discovery and bridges the gap between Stars Dance and Revival with an array of catchy, upbeat moments like “Hands To Myself,” “Survivors” and “Me & The Rhythm.” It’s an immaculately curated collection that showcases the 23-year-old’s ability to genre-hop and experiment, while staying true to herself. Read my track-by-track review below.

1. Revival

The excellent title track is a statement of intent. “I feel like I’ve awakened lately, the chains around me are finally breaking,” the diva declares over gloopy synths and sharp bursts of percussion. “I’ve been under self-restoration, I’m becoming my own salvation.” The message is clear — Selena is embracing her power and doing things her way. The result is an experimental electro-adventure with a self-help twist and a genuinely uplifting chorus.

2. Kill ‘Em With Kindness

Co-produced by Rock Mafia, Benny Blanco and Dave Aude, “Kill ‘Em With Kindness” is the triple threat’s measured missive to haters. “The world can be a nasty place,” she begins the song. “You know it, I know it.” But instead of raising the proverbial middle finger, the pop star takes the high road. Which is a powerful stance in the age of online-bullying, Twitter beefs and messy open letters. The track also boasts the catchiest whistle hook since Adam Lambert’s “Ghost Town.”

3. Hands To Myself

There are earworms and then there’s “Hands To Myself.” Produced by the ever-reliable Max Martin (with the help of Mattman & Robin), the hook-filled song lodges in your brain and simply refuses to leave. It’s a devastatingly well-executed piece of synth-pop with massive hit potential, so don’t be surprised if it’s released as single somewhere down the track. My only qualm is the vocal delivery, which is a little too close to Robyn’s for comfort.

4. Same Old Love

Having heard Revival in full, “Same Old Love” strikes me as a curious second single. It’s comparatively safe (at least, production-wise) and gives a misleading impression of the album with its plodding tempo. However, it comes into its own lyrically. While “The Heart Wants What It Wants” tapped into the emotional fall-out of a relationship, this little ditty finds Selena venting about the shitty world of dating. And given the song’s steady march up the iTunes download chart, plenty of us can relate.

5. Sober

Social awkwardness isn’t typical fodder for a pop song, but that’s the inspiration behind Revival highlight “Sober.” “I would hang out with people and they would drink and they’re so fun,” the diva told Time magazine. “Then the next day it would be weird.” With the rise of relatable-pop (see Alessia Cara’s “Here” and Lorde’s entire Pure Heroine album), this bittersweet pop anthem should get a warm reception at radio. Emo posturing doesn’t get any catchier.

6. Good For You (feat. A$AP Rocky)

How do you rebrand a Disney princess? The answer, it seems, is going down the road less traveled. Instead of snatching a custom-made radio smash, the Billboard cover girl opted for a sensual mid-tempo jam that lands somewhere between electro and R&B. Co-written by Julia Michaels and Semi Precious Weapons frontman Justin Tranter, “Good For You” is the perfect introduction to Selena 2.0. If there were any doubts about fans going along for the ride, they were assuaged when the track peaked at number five on the Billboard Hot 100 — her highest charting single to date.

7. Camouflage

Selena Gomez isn’t the first (former) teen queen that springs to mind when you think of power ballads. That has always been the terrain of Demi Lovato (and, to a lesser extent, Miley Cyrus). However, with the right material, she can more than hold her own. (See “Love Will Remember”). And this definitely qualifies. Produced by frequent Sia collaborator Chris Braide, “Camouflage” is a pretty piano ballad that extracts a warm, folky quality from Sel’s voice as she reminisces about an old flame.

8. Me & The Rhythm

“Me & The Rhythm” is the most obvious link between the Stars Dance and Revival eras. It’s another breathy synth-pop adventure, the genre she conquered on album number four, but there’s a simplicity and sophistication to the production that sets it apart. A few commentators have criticized the superstar’s “dead” vocals, but, for me, her casual disinterest is perfectly suited to the icy, quintessentially Scandinavian arrangement. (It was produced by Swedish duo Mattman & Robin).

9. Survivors

“You built me from a broken heart, with bricks you made from broken parts,” the hitmaker sings on the delightfully demented “Survivors.” “You fixed the paint so we could start, so now what’s mine is ours.” It’s unclear if the song is addressed to a lover, friends or perhaps even the fans that have stood by her, and it doesn’t really matter. There’s something inherently anthemic about the Steve Mac-produced track. From the quirky hooks to the sing-a-long chorus, this is going to have a long shelf life.

10. Body Heat

Given the sultry nature of lead single “Good For You,” it comes as something of a surprise that sex is largely off the agenda on Revival. But then, shock value has never been Selena’s thing. She does let her hair down a little, however, on “Body Heat” — Hit-Boy and Rock Mafia’s brass-heavy, club-ready contribution. “I’m restless cravin’ your attention, my red lips have found a new obsession,” she chirps. “Let’s go all night, just you and me.” keep an ear out for the killer bridge.

11. Rise

“Rise” closes out the standard edition of Revival. As such, the collection’s third Hit-Boy/Rock Mafia production serves as a bookend to the title track. It is a similarly atmospheric dose of self-help pop, but unlike the album-opener, the tone is light and celebratory. Unfortunately, it comes off as cheesy and ranks as one of the album’s few missteps. Chalk it up as soothing filler.

12. Me & My Girls

Now this is more like it. Selena wakes from the slumber of “Rise” to deliver one of the album’s feistiest party jams. This is a female empowerment anthem with a monster hook and infinitely quotable lyrics (“tan skin looks damn good in white, strip it down by the Hollywood sign”). It also delivers one of the most memorable pop put-downs in recent memory: “I’m going home with who I came with and who I came with is not you.” I wouldn’t be mad hearing this on the radio.

13. Nobody

“Good For You” co-producer Nick Monson returns for “Nobody,” the album’s second ballad. However, the pop star sings from a very different perspective than she did on “Camouflage.” Instead of ruminating on a failed relationship, she pays tribute to her lover on this tender, tastefully understated anthem: “No kiss, no lips, no feel, no rush can keep me high, I swear no one can love me like you do.” This is one of my favorite songs on the album.

14. Perfect

If you thought “Same Old Love” found Selena in a bitter mood, wait until you hear “Perfect.” Actually, bitter isn’t right adjective. Our heroine is feeling downright obsessive as she wrestles with her man moving on to the next one. “I can taste her lipstick and see her laying across your chest,” she laments before wondering aloud: “Maybe I should be more like her?” Felix Snow’s dreamy, harp-smattered production is particularly notable.

15. Outta My Hands (Loco)

I feels like this is on the wrong album. Sure, the lyrics are edgier than Selena’s Disney fare (“they say you shouldn’t sleep with someone crazier than you, but you’re so unforgettable I had to break the rules)” but the perky Rock Mafia-produced track wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Stars Dance or even When The Sun Goes Down — albeit with a couple of bleeps here and then. This bonus track isn’t worth the trip to Target.

16. Cologne

The other Target bonus track, on the other hand, is well worth hunting down. Produced by Stargate and co-written by “Whip It!” diva Chloe Angelides and Danish synth-pop band Donkeyboy (you might remember their 2009 hit “Ambitions”), “Cologne” is a mellow, mid-tempo love letter. “You keeping me safe and warm even when I’m home alone,” Selena coos. “Wearing nothin’ but your cologne.” It’s a little corny, but I’m so here for it.

Idolator Score: 4/5

Mike Wass

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