When I started Ranting About Music (and then the blog a few years later), I had it in my head that I was only going to do rock/alt. rock albums. But every now and then, the review pool got a little deeper; other genre artists (T.Swift, Kanye) started making appearances, and I even reviewed the new Britney back when it came out.
But I never, ever expected to review a Selena Gomez record.
Out of our current round of teen pop singers, Selena Gomez was the one I knew least about, and that suited me damn fine. I still don’t know much; all I know is that she’s one of those Disney gals trying to have a life outside her show, and that she’s dating Justin Bieber.
I am so ready to hate this album.
Unfortunately, “Love You Like a Love Song” makes that an incredibly tough task. The song’s production is super tight, and the song is simply a fantastically straight forward pop song with a solid chorus. On top of that, Gomez steps ahead of her rival Disney cash-ins by having actual stage presence and poise. The more synth-tastic “Bang Bang Bang” takes the old pop cliche of “Screw my old flame, I got this new hotness” and…actually doesn’t do anything new with it. The 80’s throwback feel of the song is tolerable, but the lead synth is pushed way too far up in the mix.
Thankfully, When the Sun Goes Down gets easier to riff on for the next two songs. “Who Says” is a toothless, bland self-empowerment ballad in the style of “Fuckin’ Perfect Born Just The Way You Are (Firework)”. Gomez goes at the track with enthusiasm, but the production, with acoustic guitars, drum machines, and strings would have sounded dated five years ago. Things don’t improve with the other meandering ballad of the album, “We Own the Night”, which could have been so much better with a stronger band presence.
Outside of those two songs, When the Sun Goes Down is a pretty straight up dance-pop album. But, interestingly, outside the under-18 club jam “Hit the Lights”, none of these songs really sound associated with 2011. And they’re much, much better for it. These songs don’t chase the radio, and therefore don’t fall into the usual radio traps of being annoying or overlong or obnoxiously produced. The good production is half of the album’s success, the other half is Gomez. She wholeheartedly dives into every song here, and her energy is easy to feed off of.
Take “Whiplash” for example. The electronic, stomping production threatens to swallow her whole, but she manages to stay on top, and as a result it’s one of the best songs on the album. “Whiplash”, or possibly “Hit The Lights” before it marks When The Sun Goes Down as a super bottom heavy re–
Hey, wait, am I actually enjoying this?
Maybe it’s because I’ve seen jackshit of her before this album, but Selena sounds less like a tv star trying to cash in on her appeal and more like a certified pop star. She’s a capable singer, and unlike her peers, sounds like she’s enjoying herself. The title track is a nice slice of pretty pop, and even though it borders lyrically bankrupt, “My Dilemma” has an energy (and a hook) that still makes it fun.
Speaking of fun, “That’s More Like It” is more manic than a 4 year old hopped up on Pixie Stix and sonically kicks the shit out of anything Owl City put out a few weeks ago. After the decent but otherwise forgettable “Outlaw”, When the Sun Goes Down sets with “Middle of Nowhere” (a fitting shoutout to last week’s review), which boasts one of the strongest melodies on the album. The chorus is instantly singalongable, and more fun than it should be.
And that’s effectively the story of the whole record. There’s no ground being broken, but the album has a consistency not seen elsewhere; only three or so songs misfire. Unlike other pop albums I’ve reviewed, the bad songs were only skippably bland instead of headache inducing, too. Probably the biggest downfall to When the Sun Goes Down is the songwriting; there’s no detail or personality to these lines, and Gomez could develop more personality outside of “I like things!”. But in the grand scheme of things, that doesn’t take the album down too far. Three and a half out of five stars.
tl;dr: Fun, yet well-done pop fluff, 3.5/5.