Review Summary: Good enough for you.
With one breath and a drop of sensual, yet menacing synths, Selena Gomez’s lead single “Good for You” seemed to be born out of some sort of immaculate conception. For a star whose musical presence has always simply been pleasant at best, “Good for You” was alarming, and unbelievably refreshing. Sexy without trying to shock, poised without posturing, mature without being portentous: “Good for You” was the best surprise to happen to pop music this summer. Other artists tried – Demi Lovato’s clamorous “Cool for the Summer” comes to mind – but Gomez seemed at last to sound like someone
, and it was someone arresting. The lyrics appear submissive, yet it’s the most powerful and focused she’s ever been. It’s a stance that’s reflected in the album artwork: the deluxe edition features her naked and seemingly vulnerable, but she stares down the camera, not to invite, but to challenge. It seemed that, finally, Selena Gomez wasn’t just a name to hand songs to. She was bona fide musical presence, coming into her own. A revival.
There are plenty of moments on Revival
that head in that direction. “Hands to Myself” excels for almost the exact same reasons that “Good for You” does. Minimalism. Personality. Determined sexuality. Breath? Gomez is easing into musical maturity easily, and it’s resulting in her most compelling work to date. “Body Heat” also finds her going where she hasn’t gone before: “Like a diamond, I need a little pressure/so press me down, until I scream.” It’s not as minimal, but it’s just as strong, and a little more fun. And on the defiant, Charli XCX-assisted “Same Old Love” and the piano ballad “Camouflage,” she breaks spades with swearing. That wouldn’t matter as much if Miley Cyrus hadn’t set the precedent for the wildest way to shed the skin of a child star, but it still sends a clear message: Selena Gomez makes grown-up music now.
far transcends her gaudy previous release, Stars Dance
. But there is a thin air of disappointment that hangs over Revival
. We don’t need an album of “Good for Yous”, but there are a few too many tracks that find Gomez regressing into the faceless singer that she was too content with being for too long. The album starts strong with the stuttering title track, but “Kill Em With Kindness” sounds like the average Selena Gomez single to be released a few months in the future: ordinary, uninvolving, enjoyable enough, and not much more. “Me & the Rhythm” is an even worse offender, being a totally dry and conventional I-just-love-the-music-so-let-me-dance-because-dancing-makes-me-free pop jam. The bonus tracks on the deluxe edition are far superior to at least a third of the record. “Me and my Girls” is a kiss-off with a mean streak, “Nobody” is a dark torch song, and “Perfect” sounds like actual heartbreak. They actually sound like the work of an artist who, as she sings in the title track, is becoming her own salvation.
“Camouflage,” then, becomes a kind of Freudian slip for Gomez and her songwriters. It’s the best demonstration on the album of her admittedly stellar vocal ability, where she admits “I got so much s--- to say/but I can't help feeling like I'm camouflage.” It’s also one of the drabber moments on the record. She sounds like an American Idol contestant, or a demo for Avril Lavigne. Beige as can be. She has things to say, musical statements she wants heard, but she’s yet to form a definite image in the pop landscape. And that’s been the key issue with her music for a long time: what exactly does a Selena Gomez song sound like? Up until now, it seemed like the answer was whatever somebody thought she could market. Her latest release is the closest she’s come to giving us an answer, by finally making music on her own terms. It may not be a full revival, but it is, at last, a sign of life.