Review Summary: Canadian teenager plots the grid-points to success & comes up with a style all of her own.
Success in the music industry – especially when it comes to the pop genre – can sometimes be akin to playing the game of Battleship. One can be so close to sinking an opponent’s ships, yet so far away if they don’t hit the exact sweet spot that is required. If her debut LP ‘Know-It-All’ is anything to go by, then Canadian teenager Alessia Cara appears to have been doing some grid work on her sound; plotting points between a number of prosperous artists who have laid the groundwork before her. While this seems overly calculated on paper, Cara comes up with a style all of her own, undeniably adding her personality to these ten tracks. Subtly exploring pop, soul and contemporary R&B, the nineteen year old recalls everyone from Lauryn Hill to Alicia Keys, and Lorde to Rihanna, on this thirty-five minute record... Often within the same song!
With nods to Lorde’s ‘Royals’, U.S. top 20 hit ‘Here’ is the undoubted standout among the pack; a smartly written contrarian anthem that is relatable to anyone who has been forced to attend a party that they did not want to. The remaining tracks of the first half of this LP all satisfyingly add further pieces to the Alessia Cara puzzle. Opener ‘Seventeen’ is backed by hip-hop inspired beats, ‘Outlaws’ adds some doo-wop backing vocals, horns and piano, ‘I’m Yours’ has some chart-baiting catchiness, while the impressive ‘Four Pink Walls’ infuses neo-soul into the mix. In all cases, Cara’s tales are authentic, vulnerable and interesting, while the writing is thoughtful and mature beyond her years. She excels with an almost scat-like sing/speak technique that enhances relatability and accentuates her grainy, soulful vocals, while masking a lack of strength and range.
Anyone would think that these five tunes would make for an excellent EP... And they did – in exactly the same order - just seventy-seven days earlier on the ‘Four Pink Walls’ EP. Of the most recently recorded latter half, recent single ‘Wild Things’ and empowerment anthem ‘Scars to Your Beautiful’ are probably the most indicative of the teenager’s future direction; being slick and catchy tunes that thankfully retain Cara’s likable personality. Otherwise, however, it all feels a little rushed to capitalize on the hype train, with the singer-songwriter’s exploration into extremes falling relatively flat. Both the acoustic-driven ‘Stone’ and piano-driven ‘Stars’ are fine songs in isolation, but too generic to differentiate them from the ballads of other female vocalists who own a much stronger voice. More worrying is ‘Overdose’, an over-produced electro-banger that multi-tracks Cara’s vocals to the point of distraction.
While it doesn’t actually sound like either debut album, ‘Know-It-All’ has much in common with both Adele’s ‘19’ and Ellie Goulding’s ‘Lights’. All three records share a relatively unique take on female-sung pop music, but are inconsistent offerings by talented artists searching for their true sound. One of those Brits honed in on her strengths and arguably became the most successful female singer in the world. The other – possibly due to label pressures – descended into clubby dime-a-dozen electro-pop. One can only hope that Alessia Cara can receive the future support of her label (Def Jam Recordings, no less) to continue to make the music which she wants to, and which best suits her strengths. If that is the case, then the sky may well be the limit.
Recommended Tracks: Here, Four Pink Walls, Wild Things & I’m Yours.