Review Summary: Ariana Grande continues to put her magnificent voice on display, but everything around it is beginning to crumble.
Forty minutes of sex usually feels amazing. Forty minutes of Ariana Grande singing about sex sounds pretty damn good, too. Forty minutes of simplistic trap beats and unvaried melodies, with no hooks to speak of, is unfortunately not nearly as enticing. Grande’s sixth full-length LP is her most cohesive work to date, but it’s a feat that’s accomplished to an absolute fault. Listening to positions
is a strain on the patience of anyone who enjoys infectious choruses, quality lyrics, or sonic diversity, and it’s easily Ariana Grande’s worst album to date.
To give Ariana (some) credit where its due, positions
has a handful of clear strengths working in its favor that prevent the record from plummeting below mediocrity. There’s no refuting her vocal talent, for starters; it’s a facet of her music that has always provided her a high floor, regardless of how unimaginative her surrounding songwriters and collaborators may be. This allows her to still occasionally shine – like on the opener ‘shut up’, which minus the silly lyrics is an enjoyable showcase of her vocal range, or ‘my hair’, which has an old school R&B aesthetic and features one of the most memorable melodies on the entire album. Additionally, Ariana has smartly reduced the presence of guest musicians and rappers. While they are realistically trends ingrained in all of modern pop, they have often distracted from Grande’s natural abilities in the past, notably on Dangerous Woman
– Grande’s near-masterpiece that might have been so without Lil Wayne bursting through at all the wrong times to deliver special bits like “girl you need a hot boy.” Here, Grande’s peanut gallery is limited to Doja Cat, The Weeknd, and Ty Dolla $ign – and while none of their performances are necessarily worth singling out, they all manage to avoid destroying the flow of positions
. All of this brings us to the final bit of praise, which is that positions
really does possess flow
– it’s something that Ariana began to master on Thank U, Next
, but it’s arguably even more smooth and refined here.
Unfortunately, this is the point where we’re forced to discuss all of the other musical components that are severely lacking. Do you remember how much Ariana Grande’s tremendous range made her stand out when she first entered the scene in 2013 with Yours Truly
? Or how she seemingly belted out huge
and insanely infectious choruses left and right – from the title track to ‘Into You’ to ‘Greedy’ – on 2016’s Dangerous Woman
? Those days appear to be over, at least for now, as Grande and her team of producers have recently favored homogenous trap beats and less flashy production. About half of the songs on positions
utilize similar beats and rhythms, pushing the core of the album into an unrecognizable slosh. If you tune out everything else going on and focus strictly on the beats, you’ll find yourself hard-pressed to tell the difference between ‘just like magic’, ‘six thirty’, ‘safety net’, ‘nasty’, ‘west side’, ‘positions’, and ‘obvious’ – and that’s a major problem on its own before you compound it with the absence of memorable melodies or interesting lyrics. Those latter issues are perhaps even more conspicuous than the near-identical beats. Plenty of mainstream pop artists have, now and always, deployed vapid lyrics – and while nobody is demanding life-changing messages from Grande, the goal should have been to write verses and choruses that pop
. The moments here that do stand out seem to do so for the wrong reasons – “So maybe you should shut up, mmm”, “Just gimme them babies”, “I wanna 69 with you”, “Say what you want, I needed a real bonafide G” – are all just from the opening trio of tracks, and it’s pretty much a barometer of what one can expect throughout positions
. With regard to the melodies, there are occasional bright spots – but the vast majority of the verses are delivered in a similar cadence while the choruses largely pale in comparison to even the most middling efforts from her past. When you roll up all of these shortcomings together, it’s a hurdle too tall for even Grande’s tremendous vocal talents to clear.
isn’t totally without merit – Grande’s inherent skill set will prevent her from ever releasing something totally unlistenable. With that said, she sure seems to be trying. Sweetener
was a similarly disappointing release that was salvaged by some diamonds in the rough (‘God Is a Woman’, ‘No Tears Left to Cry’), but positions
is even duller and doesn’t possess any hook-laden songs to bail it out. Once the initial hype surrounding this record simmers a bit, it will likely have the least replay value out of her discography and slowly fade into the ether. Grande is far too talented to be crafting forgettable pop albums, so here’s to hoping that she regains her footing soon.