Album Review: Jennifer Lopez – A.K.A.

Jennifer Lopez A.K.A. cover AKA

Jennifer Lopez celebrates 15 years in music with album A.K.A.

It is hard to believe that it is already 15 years ago that Jennifer Lopez had her first wordwide hit with her debut single ‘If You Had My Love’. She released her first album On The 6 in 1999 and as is known, she had a whole bunch of hit singles and albums after this. To be honest however, her more recent output, with the exception of smash hit ‘On The Floor’, did not really impress chartswise. Still she is often seen as a big name in pop music and she is ready to try and take over the world again with full promotion for new album A.K.A..

A.K.A. is the 8th studio album by Lopez. Her previous record, Love?, was released in 2011 and was not one of her most successful ones. Judging by first single ‘First Love’, Jennifer returned to the pop sound with a twist of R&B that proved to be successful on a hit like ‘Get Right’. It is actually a great track with a big, proper pop chorus, that most of her recent work lacked. The song made me excited for this album, so I have to admit it is a bit disappointing to find out it actually is the best and only real pop anthem on the album. Although it is definitely not one of her stronger records yet, this does not mean the first single is the only song worth listening.

The title track that opens the album for example, is catchy, has the right attitude and if you look past the distracting noises in the intro, the song has a fine production as well. It quite accurately sets the tone for the rest of the record which is pop with a lot of influences from hiphop and R&B. On the first track, she invited T.I. for an inescapable rap and she collaborates with a handful of other rappers as well. Iggy Azalea spices up the track ‘Acting Like That’ that is a bit bland without her part and French Montana is not able to make the awfully annoying ‘I Luh Ya Papi’ any better. Of course Pitbull is on the record as well, with a completely ridiculous song called ‘Booty’. The thing is, their first two singles together, ‘On The Floor’ and ‘Dance Again’, were great tracks, but everything they did together after that, from ‘Live It Up’ to that Fifa World Cup song, is just dreadful.

Although most of the raps do not add anything substantial, Lopez also falls short to impress without them. ‘Never Satisfied’ is a decent midtempo pop track but never really takes off or distinguishes itself from everything that is out there at the moment. ‘Emotions’ is actually a pretty good ballad, but I can not help but feel it would have worked better with a stronger and more versatile vocalist. ‘Worry No More’ would have been one of the better moments of the album if it wasn’t for the enormous load of autotune they put onto Jenny’s vocals, which ruins the track for me. Luckily, there are some things here that are worth the wait.

Jennifer brings back a light tropical feel on the beautiful ballad ‘Let It Be Me’. The track feels like a warm, but refreshing summer breeze that stylistaclly reminds of her first two albums. Vocally, Lopez sounds mature and the lyrics are meaningful and heartfelt. When hearing this song, one would wish she would have gone with a little more stripped down approach instead of all the noisy hiphop productions. Bonus track ‘Expertease’ (with lyrics and backing vocals from Sia) is also a decent mid tempo pop song with a memorable chorus. On the last track, ‘Same Girl’, Lopez once again tries to convince us she still is ‘Jenny from the block’ and while this might be true, she is not the successful Jenny that scored hit after hit in the early 2000’s anymore and this album will definitely not bring those glory days back.

Worth a listen: First Love, A.K.A., Let It Be Me, Expertease, Same Girl.

Album Review: Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence

Lana Del Rey Ultraviolence cover art

Lana Del Rey strikes again with outstanding sophomore record

In retrospect, the campaign of Lana Del Rey’s debut album Born To Die was a huge success. She managed to sell around 12 million copies worldwide and singles like the remix of ‘Summertime Sadness’ and The Great Gatsby soundtrack ‘Young & Beautiful’ helped her gain more and more fans. This all made the expectations for the release of her sophomore record Ultraviolence, go through the roof. It is hard to answer the question if this album really lives up to the expectations as it is quite different to Born To Die in quite a lot of aspects. In any way, Lana Del Rey, surprises, stays true to herself and delivers another outstanding record.

Lana Del Rey made her comeback a few months ago when she released the refreshing and brilliant ‘West Coast’, the first single from Ultraviolence. It became apparent that her sound switched to somewhat more of a band sound with less hiphop beats and cinematic strings. The striking but smart tempo changes in the song showed she follows her own path and does not produce songs that sound like immediate hits. This trend continued on Lana’s Nancy Sinatra moment ‘Shades of Cool’, but still everything about them felt like it fitted Lana. We see this trend happening within the whole album. If you expect a Born To Die part two, you might get disappointed. The new record is less poppy, does hardly feature any hiphop beats, the choruses are often not as catchy and infectious as the likes of ‘Blue Jeans’, ‘Radio’ or ‘National Anthem’ and it is all a little less glamorous. The only track that somehow delivers the strings and beats of Born To Die, is the title track ‘Ultraviolence’, that is build up from a lot of hooks. Then what do we get on the new album? An even darker sound, more guitars, a vocally stronger and more confident Del Rey and a whole bunch of different, but still very strong songs.

The album opens with the epic more than 6 minutes long track ‘Cruel World’ and the darker, alternative guitar sound is immediately hearable. The second thing that becomes apparent, is that her lyricism did not change at all. ‘Cruel World’, as well as a lot of the other songs, still deal with the bad guy lover and she once again puts her ‘red party dress’ on in the chorus (although there is no ‘dancing/grinding in the pale moonlight’ involved this time). But who cares if her music repeats itself thematically when it still brings us great melodies like in the chorus and verses of ‘Sad Girl’, packed in a fresh and somewhat more alternative style, that Del Rey seems to wear with a lot more confidence than before.

On the irrestibly strong ‘Fucked My Way Up To The Top’, Del Rey shows off her sassy and playful side as she seems to make fun of all the stories that claimed that she did not rise to success in the music industry in an ‘authentic’ way. We also hear this playfulness in the cheeky ‘Brooklyn Baby’, absolutely one of the highlights of the record. Del Rey has never sounded happier before than in these lyrics about her boyfriend who is in a band, her rare jazz collection and being cooler than her man. Other than this sassiness, she also treats us with enough sadcore, for example in ‘Pretty When You Cry’ and the gorgeous ‘Old Money’, that defenitely has one of the best hooks and most heartbreaking choruses she ever made. The ‘But if you send for me you know I’ll come, and if you call for me you know I’ll run’, are devastatingly beautiful.

It is not only Del Rey who shines on this record, also producer Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) impresses with incredibly layered productions. The dark and raw sound give the tracks and extra emotional dimension without making the gorgeous melodies drown in too much noise. If I have to be completely honest, I would say that Born To Die had more stand out tracks on it, but Ultraviolence works very well as a cohesive body of work. Del Rey absolutely delivered with reinventing herself sonically but still delivering a quality album with some really impressive songs on it.

Must listens: Brooklyn Baby, Old Money, Sad Girl, Fucked My Way Up To The Top, Ultraviolence (and of course single West Coast).


Album Recensie: Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence

Lana Del Rey slaat weer toe met ijzersterk tweede album

Achteraf gezien was de campagne rond het debuutalbum van Lana Del Rey, Born To Die, een doorslaand succes. Ze verkocht maar liefst 12 miljoen exemplaren wereldwijd en hits als de remix van ‘Summertime Sadness’ en The Great Gatsby soundtrack ‘Young & Beautiful’ zorgden ervoor dat haar fanbase zich flink uitbreidde. Hierdoor ontstonden er hoge verwachtingen voor het tweede album van de zangeres, getiteld Ultraviolence. Of ze deze verwachtingen ook bij iedereen zal waarmaken is af te wachten, want de nieuwe plaat is op veel fronten niet te vergelijken met voorganger Born To Die. Hoe je het ook wendt of keert, Del Rey verrast, blijft trouw aan haar eigen visie en levert weer een collectie uitstekende songs af.

Lana Del Rey kwam een paar maanden geleden terug met het verfrissende en briljante ‘West Coast’, de eerste single van de nieuwe plaat. Meteen werd duidelijk dat ze een andere richting in was geslagen met een band sound in plaats van de hiphop beats en dramatische strijkers van haar eerdere werk. De opvallende tempowijzigingen lieten zien dat Del Rey niet op makkelijke radiohits jaagt, maar haar eigen pad volgt. Dit was ook hoorbaar op haar Nancy Sinatra Moment, ‘Shades Of Cool’, dat als promosingle werd gelanceerd. Hoewel haar stijl veranderde, voelde alles nog wel aan als typisch Lana Del Rey en dat geldt eigenlijk voor het gehele album. Als je een Born To Die deel 2 verwacht kan je teleurgesteld worden, want de hiphop beats zijn weg, de refreinen zijn minder pakkend op het eerste gehoor dan bijvoorbeeld ‘Blue Jeans’, ‘National Anthem’ en ‘Radio’, het album is minder poppy en ook wat minder glamoureus. De enige song die de beats en strijkers van deze stijl levert, is titeltrack ‘Ultraviolence’, dat een indrukwekkende verzameling pakkende melodieën is. Maar hoe klinkt de rest dan wel? Nog duisterder, meer gebouwd op gitaren, een vocaal sterkere en zelfverzekerdere Del Rey en een grote verzameling onderscheidende, maar nog steeds zeer sterke liedjes.

Het album begint met het meer dan 6 minuten lange ‘Cruel World’, waarop de donkerdere, alternatieve geluiden direct goed te horen zijn. Wat als tweede opvalt, is dat haar teksten eigenlijk maar weinig zijn mee veranderd. Ze zingt namelijk nog steeds over haar aantrekkelijke, maar o zo slechte vriendjes en het rode feestjurkje wat ze regelmatig aan en uittrekt (dansen in ‘the pale moonlight’ ontbreekt echter dit keer). Maar wat maakt het eigenlijk uit als ze zich qua thema’s misschien wat herhaalt, als de melodieën, zoals de refreinen en coupletten van het heerlijke ‘Sad Girl’, die nu verpakt worden in een frisse, maar ietwat rauwere stijl die Lana met meer zelfvertrouwen draagt, nog steeds zo goed zijn?

Op het onweerstaanbaar sterke ‘Fucked My Way Up To The Top’ laat ze zich van een meer speelse en uitdagende kant horen, met een dikke knipoog naar alle verhalen die de ronde deden dat Del Rey niet op een ‘authentieke’ manier zou zijn doorgebroken. Deze ondeugende kant horen we ook terug op het minstens zo speelse ‘Brooklyn Baby’, dat absoluut één van de hoogtepunten van het album is. Del Rey klonk nog niet eerder zo zorgeloos en vrolijk terwijl ze zingt over haar vriend in een band, haar ‘rare jazz collection’ en het feit dat ze cooler is dan haar geliefde. Naast deze pakkende blijheid, worden we ook weer getrakteerd op een flinke dosis ‘sadcore’ op bijvoorbeeld ‘Pretty When You Cry’ en het prachtige ‘Old Money’, dat zeker één van de mooiste melodieën en meest ontroerende refreinen uit haar carrière heeft. Als ze zingt, ‘But if you send for me you know I’ll come, and if you call for me you know I’ll run’, staat het kippenvel al snel op zijn armen.

Het is overigens niet alleen Del Rey die straalt op dit album, maar ook producer Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) maakt indruk met zijn veelal gelaagde producties. Hij weet de tracks met een donkere en ruwe sound een extra emotionele dimensie mee te geven, zonder de mooie melodieën gelijk in teveel lawaai te laten verdrinken. Als ik heel eerlijk moet zijn, zou ik zeggen dat Born To Die meer liedjes had die er bovenuit staken in kwaliteit, maar tegelijkertijd is Ultraviolence echt een degelijk en passend geheel geworden. Del Rey heeft zichzelf opnieuw uitgevonden en levert wederom een sterk album vol prachtige liedjes af.

Dit moet je gehoord hebben: Brooklyn Baby, Old Money, Sad Girl, Fucked My Way Up To The Top, Ultraviolence (en natuurlijk single West Coast).