The debut album from Nickelodeon star Ariana Grande was certainly an album that I didn't expect to be looking forward to this year. Why? Because we've become accustomed to the sound that Disney / Nickelodeon stars peddle when the embark on their obligatory pop career: It's normally some form of pop/rock, perhaps with a more rock-studded edge (Demi Lovato) or lighthearted pop (Selena Gomez) or faux-urban pop (Ashley Tisdale) or whatever kind of pop Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana was doing on her last couple albums. Ultimately, it's a path that's so rooted in convention that one can't help but feel ambivalent when one of the cast members of Nickelodeon's former hit show Victorious announces her forthcoming debut album. So when Ariana Grande debuts her lead single, "The Way" featuring American rapper Mac Miller and it samples Big Pun and Joe's "Still Not a Player"--the feeling of being taken aback is a rather big understatement. The breezy mid-tempo number, flourished skittering beats, a delicious piano sample and kinetic handclaps also packed another punch: A breathy vocal that re-called that of Mariah Carey.
And that's we're the interest lies. Grande's breathy vocal, her fluttering falsetto and piercing whistle register is riddled with Mariah influences at her most vocally restraint. These influences are used to decorate the entire tracklist--which begins with "Honeymoon Avenue" a swooning mid-tempo, produced by Babyface. It's driven by subtle drum machines and an undercurrent of strings before the soft piano keys kick in towards its mid-section. Following is "Baby, I" also produced by Babyface kicks it up a gear--embellished with skittering drums, rhythmic clicks and claps--in the same vein as "The Way." The rapid drum beats before the chorus is nice ode to '70s soul.
Next up is "Right There" featuring rapper Big Sean. You'd be wrong to think that it samples Lil' Kim's 1996 hit "Crush on You." It actually samples The Jeff Lorber Fusion's "Rain Dance" of which "Crush on You" also takes its influence. It's the album's first major highlight--it's structure isn't dissimilar to "The Way," however its composition is noticeably stronger. Grande puts her vocal at the forefront on the swooning balladry of "Tattooed Heart" showcasing a nice '60s inspired doo-wop composition. "Daydreamin'" harbours the same nostalgic old-fashioned composition.
By, "Lovin' It" and "You'll Never Know" the album has its sound set in stone. In fact, it's hard to arcticulate why "Lovin' It" is any different to "The Way" and "Right There" aside from the fact it uses a sample I can't quite put my finger on. Yes, it's that hybrid of softcore R&B and urban-pop with skittering drum beats and drum machines. However, I can't praise the albums consistency and then criticise the albums recycling of the same sound. In any case it's a sound that works for her. Of course, there's the jaunty and aptly-piano driven pop of "Piano," the dance inspired "Better Left Unsaid" and the album's biggest mis-step "Popular Song" featuring MIKA to balance out the sound, but they're also the albums weaker moments and feel rather out of place.
The album arrives at a melancholic climax with the lovely piano balladry of "Almost Is Never Enough" featuring Nathan Sykes of The Wanted. Yours Truly, tries something other albums spawned by Disney and Nickelodeon stars rarely do--make albums targeted at--but not exclusive to--adults. The bulk of its sound plucked from the '90s and early '00s--pulling its inspiration from eras that the current tween audience are oblivious to. It's not perfect but sets the stage for what looks to be a pretty glittering career Ariana. (No pun in intended).
Best: Right There, The Way, Baby I, Tattooed Heart, Honeymoon Avenue, Almost is Never Enough