There are two options for Popstars In Crisis when it comes to recording new material. You can either do a Britney Spears and grab the nearest pole, swig vodka and beg the nearest Womanizer to Gimme More Till The World Ends; or you can do an Adele and channel every negative emotion running through your body into ludicrously successful balladry.
It’s a bit of both for Demi Lovato, the former Sonny With A Chance and Camp Rock star who was admitted to rehab last year for issues including self-harm and bipolar disorder. The front end of her more-anticipated-than-was-realistically-expected third album ‘Unbroken’ is the R’n'B party record she spoke of before everything went a bit pear-shaped, with guest appearances from urban heavyweights that leave the pop-rock brattishness of first two discs ‘Don’t Forget’ and ‘Here We Go Again‘ far, far behind. What follows is a barrage of outright pop music, complete with a few heartstring-tugging ballads and the occasional energetic love song.
Oddly, the weakest tracks are placed at the front of the record, as if to get them out the way early on. Opener ‘All Night Long’ is a ridiculously addictive ode to curfew-busting, but subsequent Dev collaboration ‘Who’s That Boy’ and Iyaz hook-up ‘You’re My Only Shorty’ are disappointingly mediocre.
But those two mis-steps aside, the rest is pretty much a resounding success. The ballads in particular are worthy of high praise, if only for allowing The Voice to send Lovato into a league of her own. The incredible ‘Fix A Heart’, the career-high single ‘Skyscraper‘, and finale ‘For The Love Of A Daughter’ are all beautifully performed; and though her songwriting input is significantly less here than on her first two discs, it’s hard to notice or care when the performance is this affecting.
There’s also a lot to be said for tracks like ‘Unbroken’ and ‘Hold Up’; too uptempo and high on production effects to be filed under ‘ballad’ but no less bursting with emotional resonance and world-class singing. Penultimate track ‘My Love Is Like A Star’ is also well worth a nod for being the best diva-does-soul-pop enormoballad since Kelly Clarkson’s ‘The Trouble With Love Is’, but it’s such a shame that the piss-poor ‘In Real Life’ has to show up towards the end and spoil things a smidgeon.
So although it may not be as without flaw as we were hoping, that’s not to say ‘Unbroken’ isn’t a massive accomplishment. This time last year Demi hit her lowest ebb, and now, twelve months later, her career is at an all-time high – the Disney-friendly bubblegum rock of her first two records is totally and utterly gone, and in its place is clever, well-produced and exceptionally well sung pop music. This could – and should – be the album that sends the industry’s most underrated vocalist stellar.