Teen starlets who find fame on the Disney Channel before crafting a pop career will always have a barrage of critics waiting to tear them down; a trend which both Demi Lovato’s earth-shattering vocals and Miley Cyrus’ well-produced anthems prove unfair. But for every Cyrus and Lovato there’s a Hilary Duff, a Vanessa Hudgens or a Selena Gomez; the girls who spend rushed album after rushed album trying, but never quite managing, to be Actually Quite Good.
‘When The Sun Goes Down’ is the third album in as many years for Gomez, who generously but rather pointlessly likes to credit her band The Scene with every release. This collection puts far more emphasis on electro-pop than her bubblegum-rock début ’Kiss & Tell‘ and slightly maturer ‘A Year Without Rain’, but as with both of its predecessors it spends its entire duration toying with the idea of being something special but never quite getting there.
Opening two tracks ‘Love You Like A Love Song’ and ‘Bang Bang Bang’ don’t even sound interesting to the sleepy vocalist herself; the former sounding like a sub-standard Lady Gaga cast-off and the latter an inferior alternative to La Roux’s ‘Bulletproof’. Lead single ‘Who Says’ begins well but loses touch with everyone above the age of 14 with lyrics like “Who says you’re not pretty?”, and late album bore ‘Outlaw’ tries to build a solid chorus around the words “You’re an outlaw, you’re an outlaw, you’re an outlaw running from love”.
It’s not that nobody’s trying. The writing team includes Toby Gad, Pixie Lott and Katy Perry; and even Britney Spears, who didn’t write a single word of her own album, lends a hand to one track. The problem is just that it all reeks of a “that’ll do” approach to hitmaking; an album created to keep the fanbase content and the Gomez brand in the spotlight rather than to break any musical barriers.
We should emphasise at this point that ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ is rarely downright bad. It’s just irritating, if anything, to hear track after track flirt heavily with the notion of being an amazing pop creation, but fall short due to unsatisfying choruses and/or cringe-inducing lyrics. The only one that really, flawlessly hits the mark is ‘We Own The Night’ (co-starring and co-written by Lott), a subtle mid-tempo two-hander satisfyingly at odds with the archetypal dance-pop lyrics. That track alone scrapes the disc its third star.