PositionsVerdict: A rare misfire from the pop superstar.
What’s the story?
Positions is the sixth studio album by American singer Ariana Grande. The singer worked with a variety of producers on the album, including Tommy Brown, Anthony M. Jones, London on da Track, Murda Beatz, The Rascals, Scott Storch, Shea Taylor and Charles Anderson. The album expands on the R&B and trap-pop sound of its predecessors, Sweetener (2018) and Thank U, Next (2019), while incorporating elements of hip hop, neo soul and funk. Lyrically, Positions finds Grande discussing themes of romantic love. Doja Cat, the Weeknd and Ty Dolla Sign make guest appearances in the album.
Worth a listen?
Positions is single-minded in its pursuit of carnality, an album devoted to Grande singing dirty over elastic, erotic slow jams. Her lyrics are often explicit, causing a slight tension with her vocals, which are always controlled and very rarely given to moments of sensuality; she never seems quite as fleshly as the words she’s singing. This cool, reserved vibe doesn’t necessarily sabotage Grande’s intent, as it does help maintain the mood. Such an intense, sustained focus does mean Positions succeeds in sounding sexy, but it doesn’t do much outside of that: apart from the title track, few songs stand out individually, the rhythm and productions are all painted in shades of grey, and Grande disappears into the setting of her own design. Maybe this is the entire point of Positions but the swift succession of albums suggests that Grande may be better off slowing her creative process down just enough to help sculpt the album into a soundtrack that has an ebb and flow instead of a single sustained thrum.
Following a relatively lacklustre decade, DISCO is a welcome return to the club-friendly dance-pop that defined Australian diva Kylie Minogue’s early 21st century rebirth. This glittery, feel-good set is nothing short of euphoric, a dozen near-perfect gems that pay respect to the album’s namesake era while updating the production with thrilling results. Channelling icons like Gloria Gaynor, Donna Summer, and Chic, Minogue puts her stamp on the genre with expert finesse. While it’s no surprise that she can pull this off – she’s nailed the disco sound at various points in her long career – hearing an unbroken stretch of Kylie-branded dancefloor throwbacks is a rapturous experience.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sam Smith delayed, reworked and retitled his third album. The lyrics are drawn from the singer’s first real-life heartbreak. Smith previously had no trouble expressing romantic torment, and that continues throughout the reliably low-spirited and highly-expressive Love Goes. The dance-pop grooves and finely measured ballads offer few unexpected turns. They’re set apart more by a lack of gospel and soul, consequently rendering Love Goes plain by Smith’s standard – unfortunate for an artist whose instrument is anything but that.
The Metrobolist (aka The Man Who Sold the World)
Even though it contained no hits, The Man Who Sold the World, for most intents and purposes, was the beginning of David Bowie’s classic period. Working with guitarist Mick Ronson and producer Tony Visconti for the second time Bowie developed a tight, twisted heavy guitar rock that appears simple on the surface but sounds more gnarled upon each listen. When it came time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the record’s release, the rocker’s estate and label decided to bring in producer Tony Visconti to remix the album so they could release it under its original title accompanied with variation of the originally planned artwork. Visconti’s new mix – he reworked everything but ‘After All,’ which he considered “perfect as is” – opens up the record, pumping up the bass and removing the claustrophobic guitars. Some of the appeal of The Man Who Sold the World lies within its dense murk, so the clarity comes at some cost; the menace has been removed in favour of muscle. The trade-off is in the ear of the beholder.
Palestinian-Jordanian rapper Shouly’s debut album ‘The Empty Quarter’ explores themes of struggle, isolation and alienation – feelings we can relate to in 2020. The album is an analogy to the sprawling desert covering Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE and Yemen, and the experience of being an Arab immigrant in the west.
With hard-hitting lyrics, Qa3 reflects on the theme of patience coupled with a deep awe for the unwavering nature of earth’s natural wonders. The song is a tribute to strength, resilience, and just one of the many well-composed tunes in Shouly’s album.