Reviews by mars
Demi Lovato’s Dancing with the Devil… The Art of Starting Over review: Lovato both personally and vocally soars on her redeeming seventh studio album (7.5/10)
Demi Lovato’s story throughout her time both in the public spotlight and behind closed doors is one of both tragedy and triumph. Her professional career began as a child performing in local beauty pageants before landing a role on “Barney & Friends.” Her breakout role as Mitchie Torres in Disney Channel’s Camp Rock franchise introduced her bubbly personality and impressive vocal range to the world at 15-years-old. From the beginning, it was evident that Demi’s raw talent was a force to be reckoned with. At just 18-years-old, Lovato entered rehab and remained sober for six years. And in July 2018, Lovato overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, an often lethal combination, and nearly lost her life. Her newest docuseries, "Dancing with the Devil," details the events preceding Demi’s overdose and the lasting health impact it has had to this day - three strokes, a heart attack, and blindspots to the point she can no longer drive. It is truly a miracle that Demi Lovato is alive today - returning to the public eye once again and to her musical passions.
A consistent critique of pop music stems from its lack of vulnerability, lyrically choosing to stay as surface level as possible to attract listeners. That notorious belief is entirely disproven on Lovato’s newest release. Dancing with the Devil… The Art of Starting Over (released April 2, 2021) is Lovato’s musical truth, a concept album detailing the last three years of her life, vulnerably navigating her 2018 overdose and how she has butterflied into the woman she is today. It is Lovato at her most diaristic and raw, showcasing her immense vocal abilities and songwriting talents.
The album begins with “Anyone,” which Lovato performed at the 2020 Grammy Awards and heartbreakingly depicts Lovato’s call for help, and is followed by the first of two titular tracks that express just how raw pop music can be. “I was dancing with the devil / Out of control / Almost made it to heaven / It was closer than you know,” Lovato sings through confessions of relapse and substance abuse. The production swirls as Lovato’s vocals soar across stellar runs and lyrics one never thought they’d hear from a former Disney darling. “I.C.U. (Madison’s Lullabye)” is a gut-wrenching apology as she comes to terms with being declared (temporarily) legally blind and incapable of seeing her younger sister by her hospital bedside. Thankfully, Demi is no longer entirely blind and has largely recovered medically, yet this heartbreaking ballad pulls on listeners' heartstrings like none other.
This concludes the “Dancing with the Devil” chapter of the album as “Intro” features a spoken word transition into “The Art of Starting Over,” the second of two titular tracks and an album highlight. “Starting Over” and “The Kind of Lover I Am” radiate through breezes of 70s yacht-rock. The former is a perfect introduction to today’s Lovato while the latter is a pride-filled anthem of love with no boundaries. Still, fans who know Lovato for her radio-dominating singles will have to dig deep across the album’s 19 songs. There’s no song as infectious as her 2017 smash “Sorry Not Sorry,” no clear song of the summer like 2013’s “Heart Attack” and 2015’s “Cool for the Summer.” But that’s not necessarily a bad thing: recent years and quarantine have lifted the traditional boundaries confining pop’s biggest stars. There’s no clear beginning to a return to concerts nationwide, and the immense power streaming holds allows for any song to become a hit. Look at Taylor Swift’s folklore and evermore, a creative sharp left for the singer-songwriter who just won her historic third Album of the Year Grammy Award for the former. See Olivia Rodrigo’s “drivers license,” a debut single that has taken over the world (and broken quite a few world records along the way).
Starting Over is a collection of mid-tempo, R&B-infused confessionals that maintain a strong sense of consistency across the album’s entirety. Again, it is a miracle that Demi is alive and well today, and she has never sounded better than in 2021. She has always been a powerhouse vocalist, but the minimalist sound gives Demi more room to breathe vocally. There is immense pain at the forefront of “Anyone.” A delightful combination of lightness and hurt unite on “The Way You Don’t Look At Me." “Melon Cake,” a song inspired by years of birthday cakes replaced by watermelons iced with fat-free whipped cream, reunites Lovato with her pop-rock safehaven through countless confessions beautifully paired with immediately-recognizable Julia Michaels/Justin Tranter co-writing. “People out here gettin’ fired for chocolate in the backseat,” Lovato confesses - and ensures listeners is the ugly truth.
The Saweetie-assisted “My Girlfriends Are My Boyfriend” is the most hip-hop leaning song on the album, and it is surely not the first female friend empowerment track by a major pop star. It, along with some others across the almost-hour long tracklist, could have been cut and not immensely missed. The biggest surprise collaboration comes in the form of “Easy” with Noah Cyrus, a piano ballad channeling the pain of moving on from a failed relationship. It’s nothing musically revolutionary, but their harmonies soar and is a much welcomed pairing of two soulful vocalists with loads of potential.
Dancing with the Devil… The Art of Starting Over as a whole is an impressive body of work from Lovato. Its highs - “Anyone,” “ICU,” and “The Way You Don’t Look At Me” - are fantastic additions to Demi’s discography. Almost every song fits narratively within the scope of Demi’s redemption arc, but the album could have been cut by a third and would likely benefit from it. Starting Over is a strong return from the phoenix rising from its ashes, a cathartic collection of entirely transparent songwriting that clearly depict where Lovato is today - living life freely and confidently Demi.
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NY-based, 26-year-old, music-obsessed and loves to write about it.