Review Summary: As any pop album, Unbroken is one to be understood for its message, not for its details. Even though Demi did her homework pretty well.
Demi Lovato is not the same girl we met through Camp Rock or, for the ones that are not really into Disney movies, through one of the singles from Don’t Forget and Here We Go Again. When her debut came out, at least some critics were twisted: Demi had a denser sound, a clearer personality and a bigger vocal range than her “Disney generation” colleagues such as Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus. Demi was 16 and sang about adapting to her position as a teenage idol, dealing with heartbreak and reaffirming personality. Her next studio release, Here We Go Again, showed that Demi was willing to explore with her musical possibilities. In a certain way, musically speaking, Unbroken is not a step out of her natural path at all.
When it opens with “All Night Long”, putting Missy Elliott and Timbaland’s minds to work alongside Demi’s and leading the way to the next three tracks (“Who’s That Boy”, “You’re My Only Shorty”, “Together”), Unbroken is telling us that Demi is not only the Disney child most likely to become a true rockstar in the future. At the age of 19, she can play with modern R&B, has quite some voice for the ambitions she traces, and knows who to surround herself with. On this pack of four opening tracks, the only remarkable mistake is “Who’s That Boy”. For a song that counts with Dev and Ryan Tedder’s talents working alongside each other (she, a reference for contemporary electronic music; he, one of the brightest pop songwriters of our century), this second Unbroken cut takes a wrong turn on not giving any good material for Demi’s voice to shine, and ends up being essentially shallow.
“Lightweight” is the transition song between first and second portions of Unbroken, and it is also Timbaland’s last contribution to the album, best ballad on it, and the track in which the listener finally realizes how much unfulfilled potential Demi has as a vocalist. Chorus is truly moving and production is extremely creative (mostly based on vocal harmonies). It’s really interesting to try to trace a thematic parallel between “Lightweight” and “Unbroken”, its follow-up on the album’s setlist. The title track is the first glance at Demi’s true ambitions in electronic/dance music. She is not interested on just taking her music closer to the dance floors. She takes a true, trusting dive on it. Production and composition are pretty good, and it makes a huge difference to have Demi, and not Selena or Ke$ha, on the vocals.
This is the duality that most critics noted (negatively), but that also carries Unbroken’s authenticity with it: Demi’s message is that she’s been down, and that everyone, one day, will. But it’s also about saying that change is not the end, but an opportunity to rebuild yourself back, stronger, in a different place. That’s why “Skyscraper” is so symbolic and fundamental on this album. A perfect power ballad, an amazingly smart choice for a first single, and a true tribute to the power of Demi’s voice (even when it’s so appropriately weakened – what just makes the notes it reaches more remarkable), “Skyscraper” carries the stigma to synthesize Unbroken’s true intention: “Go on and try to tear me down/ I will be raising from the ground/Like a skyscraper”. It’s not about to what or who this challenge is aimed. It’s about what it means.
With all its optimistic preciosities (especially “Hold Up”, “Give Your Heart a Break” and “In Real Life”), Unbroken is about moving on. And maybe that’s why it makes the bold choice to leave a bitter taste in the listener’s mouth as it closes with such a sad and honest song as “For The Love of a Daughter”. Lyrics are naturally emotional when they paint a portrait of 4-year-old Demi having to deal with her dad’s alcoholism. It’s a haunting song, and it’s also a very painful reminder that, if Demi’s talking about turning the tables, it’s not like she’s doing it recklessly. She’s been there, even if she’s still 19, and has a lot to learn as a songwriter or a singer. But there’s one thing that Demi never allowed herself to be, and that was an act. Unbroken is about what she really is, what she always will be, no matter what musical styles she’s taking a risk at this time. And that’s enough to make it go way up above any possible criticism.