Ariana Grande
positions


3.5
great

Review

by solrage USER (4 Reviews)
November 14th, 2020 | 22 replies


Release Date: 10/30/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Ari's Airy Arias

If I've had one complaint about Ariana Grande's career it's that her music suffers from "too many cooks in the kitchen" syndrome, which happens when an artist works with so many different songwriters and producers that pull them in so many different directions that their album sound like random mélanges of genres without any overarching vision or artistry tying them together. The one exception to this was her debut, which was a great (and still terribly underrated) pastiche of classic (especially 90s) R&B. Every album since then has succeeded, to the extent that they have, on the strength of their best songs and hits, while being replete with filler. Most of her post-debut albums have also suffered in how rarely they allow her to show off her magnificent voice and range. These issues are why I consider her best album the live k bye for now, as not only did it act as a "greatest hits" of sorts, but it allowed her stretch her vocal wings, frequently with a backing band that sounds much more interested and alive than the stilted production on her albums.

positions goes some way towards fixing these issues as well. It's certainly the most coherent album of her career, stylistically feeling like an amalgamation of her R&B roots, the trap beats of her last two albums, and a new soundscape involving plucked and bowed strings and decadent layers of choral vocals. The title track is a good example, opening with a pizzicato guitar and classic R&B beat-and-clap rhythm before a swelling violin brings in the bass. As the track progresses, Ari's multi-tracked chorus vocals join on various phrases for emphasis, the most prominent being in the chorus where they repeat the B-flat major VI at the end of the first two lines ("for you," "bedroom") before resolving to a beautiful suspended tonic chord on the third iteration of the phrase ("through hoops"), lending a haunted, lost, quality to the phrase. If this was a better written song that suspended tonic chord would land on a phrase more meaningful than "I'm in the Olympics, way I'm jumping through hoops," but for mainstream pop it’s at least musically interesting.

This style can be found all over the album. The opening track shut up similarly has swelling strings, a pizzicato verse riff, multi-tracked chorus harmonies, and even a “third iteration change,” though with many variations. Here, for example, the “third iteration change” happens in the verses where the chorus-vocals accompany the end of each line, but on the third they lead to an ethereal 3-part harmony, that’s later varied again by introducing each layer separately, while the chorus introduces an awesome, chromatically descending variation. The track is also odd in its absence of any synth beats. It makes for a great contrast to the second track, 34+35 where Ari's giggle triggers the first beat of the album accompanied by a romantic violin melody. The overall vibe here being more sexually playful in opposition to the first track's accusatory playfulness.

Other tracks are purer throwbacks to her R&B days. my hair is one highlight in this style, opening with a muted guitar riff that's just straight-up jazz. The verses feature an elegant organ (of all things) laying down subtle comp rhythms, while the chorus adds a soft layer of strings, some sparkling top notes, and an aloof, outro horn riff. love language is another highlight, here anchored more strongly to an emphatic drum beat and an understated unison bass/electric piano riff that transitions into some lovely strings and tastefully tasty piano licks. The chorus is one of the catchiest on the album with Ari's deep, low-key, rhythmically potent vocals accompanied by an energetic violin melody.

The best track in the R&B style however is the slow, sensuous, off the table featuring The Weeknd. Here, a deep, reverberant bass hit and echoing percussion (sounds like a wood block) sets the tone immediately. Ari’s aching vocals enter to fill in the pensive silence and stillness between the long, lingering beats. One awesome thing about this track is how the spaciousness adds a sense of independence to the vocals and instruments, as if freed from the confines of a strict beat, which also adds to both the profound sensuality and palpable unease; the best example is the descending guitar/bass riff that’s as smooth, warm, and inviting as a well-lubed and heated Fleshlight. The track also masterfully builds as Ari and The Weeknd’s voice starts soaring, soloing, and intertwining (one might say 34+35’ing) over a velvet bed of chorus vocals and synth strings. It’s a truly stunning track, certainly one of (if not the) best of Ari’s career.

If there’s a downside to the album’s stylistic consistency it’s that it can start to sound a bit samey after a while. This isn’t helped by the fact that there’s very few faster-paced “bangers” here, nor by the fact that the trap-influenced beats are the most uninspired of Ari’s career. The lesser tracks are almost uniformly those that rely most prominently on their beats with minimal accompaniment. motive, for example, starts out sounding like a throwback to thank u, next, but quickly sinks into a dull, repetitive groove that offers little else musically. Too many of these tracks also clog up the album’s second half, especially safety net, nasty, and west side span 3-out-of-4 tracks in a row.

Thankfully, the album closes strong with the positions, obvious, pov triumvirate, with pov being another highlight. It’s the most gorgeous track on what is probably the most beautifully produced album of the year. Though less complex than off the table it’s constructed from a similar principle that builds to some wonderful climaxes, allowing Ari to show off her range and tone to glorious effect.

It can be argued that, ultimately, this is just another inconsistent album from Grande, but the real issue is whether the album’s strengths—the stylistic coherency, the gorgeous production, the sensual and airy tonal qualities—make up for its deficiencies. I’m of the mind that it does, with this being my favorite Ari album since Dangerous Woman. Though it still leaves me with the nagging feeling that arguably the greatest female vocalist of this generation still hasn’t quite fulfilled her potential in making music that lives up to the level of her phenomenal vocal talents.


user ratings (155)
3.1
good
other reviews of this album
SowingSeason STAFF (2.5)
Ariana Grande continues to put her magnificent voice on display, but everything around it is beginni...



Comments:Add a Comment 
solrage
November 14th 2020


265 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Thought I'd offer an alternative take to Sowing's review. Though I largely agree with his negative critiques I also think the album has some real strengths he overlooked. There's also some interesting musical stuff going on here to a larger extent than her other albums.

TundraL5Z
November 14th 2020


5586 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

try saying this summary 10 times fast

solrage
November 14th 2020


265 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Confession: I was compelled to write the entire review only because that summary came to me last night.

TheAntichrist
November 14th 2020


1917 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

yours truly not having too many cooks in he kitchen? bitch please there's like eleven producers for yours truly wut u smokin crack lol

solrage
November 14th 2020


265 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I didn't say otherwise, but that album was still a pretty consistent R&B pastiche album. Certainly more consistent-sounding than those that came after. It's not that an artist can't have consistency with many different songwriters/producers, it's merely when those songwriters/producers insist on writing completely different genres and the artist just goes along with it.

TheAntichrist
November 14th 2020


1917 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

my everything is definitely the hodge podge of styles, and sweetener is torn between two main guys, but i'd argue dangerous woman or thank u next were her most consistent especially lyrically

SowingSeason
Moderator
November 14th 2020


36499 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Nice review. I'm glad you covered the third iteration changes because I kind of glossed over them in favor of lamenting the album’s homogeneous beats. I'm still bored by this unfortunately. There are some interesting nuances which you articulated pretty well, but literally zero of these songs have the melodic backbone needed to remain entrenched in my rotation of catchy pop music; everything here feels like an attempt to finesse/produce their way out of an absence of interesting choruses. She's been moving away from traditional melody/chorus based pop for a few albums now in favor of hip-hop/R&B influences though, so I think she might have finally just exited my scope of interest with this one. I'm glad it's resonated with others but to me this is the epitome of the Ariana that I dislike.

Digging: Slaughter Beach, Dog - At The Moonbase

solrage
November 14th 2020


265 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

@TheAntichrist: I'm not as interested in lyrical consistency, and I still remember Dangerous Woman and Thank U Next being all over the place musically. Maybe I'll give them a relisten soon to refresh my memory.



@SowingSeason: I totally understand why someone could not like this album and think it's her worst, but also like I said in my closing here I think there are some positive qualities that make up for those deficiencies and it just depends on what you're looking for. I'm always a sucker for albums that lean heavily on tone and aesthetics and this album very much does. I certainly enjoy/appreciate strong hooks too, but I don't need them as long as something else worthwhile takes their place.

solrage
November 14th 2020


265 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Also, for those interested, Tim Henson, the guitar virtuoso from Polyphia, did a pretty awesome remix of the title track on guitar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQcVd0RXfpI



and here's a version meshed with the original track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVHiej4Ilng

Javastorm
November 14th 2020


31 Comments


I agree with both this review and Sowing's. I think listeners might feel cheated or confused if she can resurrect interest in nursery rhyme melodies while imitating other singers and then not continue to make melodic or catchy music that demonstrates her range, etc. I wonder how this would be received if it was her only/first album and she was never known otherwise

normaloctagon
November 14th 2020


3672 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

excellent review, I've only recently gotten into ariana's music and definitely find this one to be the least muddled so far, but she's got great stuff scattered throughout the discog. still need to spend more time. pos'd

Digging: Madvillain - Madvillainy

solrage
November 14th 2020


265 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

^ Thanks!

NessieKV
November 14th 2020


110 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Good review, I love this album

Digging: Taylor Swift - Evermore

NessieKV
November 14th 2020


110 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I know the songs sound samey at first but they're really not. Nasty is my current favorite.

TundraL5Z
November 14th 2020


5586 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Polyphia should cover a bunch of pop songs in their instrumental style, it would be DOPE

solrage
November 14th 2020


265 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

@NessieKV: Thanks! I certainly think on the best tracks there's enough stand-out elements to prevent them from sounding samey, but not on the weaker tracks.



@TundraL5Z: Truth. Years ago I actually learned to play God is a Woman and love improvising on that chord progression. Not that I have 1/100th of the talent of Henson, though!

Colton
November 14th 2020


7043 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I swear Sputnik cares more about Ariana than her intended demographic

Digging: Cocteau Twins - Love's Easy Tears

solrage
November 14th 2020


265 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

^ Not sure what that means...

TheAntichrist
November 14th 2020


1917 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

given her intended demographic is women, that actually makes sense

BlushfulHippocrene
Staff Reviewer
November 15th 2020


3571 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

"the best example is the descending guitar/bass riff that’s as smooth, warm, and inviting as a well-lubed and heated Fleshlight."

...incredible.

Really nice review. Goes over my head cos I'm a pleb, but appreciate your attempts to use more technical language to analyse the musicality. May finally give her debut a go, though I remember not loving her vocals toward the beginning of her career.

Small typo if you care: "The track is also odd in that its absence of any synth beats" should probably be "it's absent of any synth beats" if I'm reading the sentence right. Sentence itself is also a bit overlong/convoluted compared to the rest of the review, which is beautifully written.

Digging: Moor Mother and Billy Woods - Brass



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