Review Summary: Puth's doubt, OCD -- whatever you want to call it -- has resulted in a career defining album.
I feel like Voicenotes
’ inception was made with an unspoken, cataclysmic nervousness and a dash of unhealthy self-analysis on one’s abilities. Hear me out, even if my tinfoil hat is distracting. Last year Charlie Puth released two of the most energetically engaging songs of 2017: “How Long”, with its grease-slick aesthetic and mix of buttery melodies, staccato rhythm arrangements and tastefully placed silences; and “Attention”, a song which confidently grasps onto one of the funkiest basslines of the year: an underpinning groove that accentuates Charlie’s excellent vocal performance to create dazzling results. These two songs had a profound effect on me, quickly leading to anticipate what this guy had to say in the staggered pop realm. An artist clearly capable of making effective and catchy pop songs on his own terms, using sparse brushstrokes of the contemporary pop formula and an organically grounded mindset to the core of his writing. Songwriting that doesn’t rely on production’s bells and whistles, and compositions that put as much graft into the music as they do sugary hooks. All in all, it’s safe to say I was excited to hear Voicenotes
in full. But then something unusual happened when it came to its January release: it got pushed back to a March slot… and then again to May. Puth’s response to this near 5-month delay was that “the album isn’t perfect.”
A refreshingly rare situation to put a pop record in, but if Charlie’s meticulous nature creates one of the decade’s best albums, a couple of months of waiting is a small price to pay, right？
It’s been an exhausting journey for Voicenotes
, after all “Attention” came out 13 months ago, so there has been a lot of breathing room and reflection with the song in question – a song which ironically set the tone for the album’s entire development. This song set the groundwork for the rest of the work here, and the interesting part about this track is how it originally started off as a classical piece. It speaks volumes about the man himself, his eclectic knowledge of music (specifically jazz, which plays a subtle, yet prominent role here) and how he’ll scrutinize every square inch of his work, tip it on its head and look at it from every possible angle before pulling himself away from it. It’s no surprise that the album saw a couple of delays, and the amount of care taken with these songs is evident of that.
is a coup de maître in modern mainstream music, and a clear contender for 2018’s best pop album. Chockfull of groove, soul and energy, the “Attention” formula is utilised to the fullest here and forms as the cohesive gel to necessitate the record’s consistency, with a wealth of other ideas being used to make tracks feel individualised. Charlie’s style of singing uses an interesting dynamic of soul and a squeezed, airy croon which builds to a crescendo, typically to elevate the choruses on here. His ear for bouncy and infectious rhythms is also second to none: “The Way I Am” with its stripped, driving guitar sprints and frantic conclusive fill is extremely effective writing, couple that with the vocal work which follows the guitar’s rhythm and melody and the result is commanding you to move with it; the 80’s “Done For Me” and “BOY” with their mainstay of pulsating, sleaze-funk synth is a refreshing break of style; while the, as previously mentioned, “How Long” has an exceptional use of silence, adding further effectiveness with the bass slide and vocal 'ughh' that kicks the track back into the creeping groove again. It’s obvious that Puth knows music and wants to create a piece that is just as catchy and enjoyable instrumentally as the voice that fronts it all, this approach and his execution pedestalises the album to a higher standard than that of anything doing radio rotations today. Even the slower numbers here bring a reminiscent nod to 90’s pop that sounds both refreshing and nostalgic, but it would be a disservice to simply call it out as “nostalgic fun”
; the harmonised support from Boyz II Men on “If You Leave Me Now” and the ballad duet of “Change” with James Tylor are legitimately entertaining songs that bring an added plethora of variety and diversity to an already strong cast of songs. While “Somebody Told Me” and “Through it All” brings a correlation of all the styles used here to end the album on a celebratory high note.
Simply put: this is an exceptional masterclass in music making. It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed an album of this sort, and it’s mainly down to the fact he’s a musician in the know; he has the knowledge and the tools to attain what he wants. The clinical and sterile practice of pop albums these days is kept to an absolute minimum here, with only subtle undertones of autotune and generic electronic trickery being sprinkled across Voicenotes
. This is an LP that works with solid instrumental work, fantastic vocal work, and guest spots that are handled with an intelligible vision for his songs than just feeling shoehorned in to get more stream hits. Most importantly, it’s a pop album with a complete understanding on balance, attentive care being put into every melody and harmony, every beat and bassline – it’s all conducted to see the songs through to their fullest potential. It’s hard to imagine where Voicenotes
was 5 months ago, but it’s safe to say that that extra time has worked wonders for the final product here. It offers all the hallmarks of what makes pop so fun to listen to but showcases something which is lacking in the genre at the minute: humanity. There’s a massive amount of homage to seven decades worth of pop music here: soul, funk, 80’s synthwave and R&B to name a few, and it’s this research into his peers that has resulted in Voicenotes
being such a special album.
SPECIAL EDITION: N/A