ENTERTAINMENT
17/08/2018 11:19 BST | Updated 17/08/2018 11:25 BST

Ariana Grande's 'Sweetener' Has Its Moments, But Is Disappointingly Bland - HuffPost Verdict

The album fails to live up to its predecessor.

Island

K E Y   P O I N T S

  • ‘Sweetener’ is the fourth album to be released by American singer Ariana Grande
  • The album was trailed by singles ‘No Tears Left To Cry’ and ‘God Is A Woman’, as well as teaser track ‘The Light Is Coming’, featuring Nicki Minaj.
  • Pharrell Williams produced seven of the 15 songs on ‘Sweetener’, and served as a guest feature on ‘Blazed’, while Missy Elliott contributed a guest verse on ‘Borderline’.
  • Several tracks were produced by Max Martin and Ilya Salmanzadeh, who previously worked on Ariana’s songs ‘Bang Bang’, ‘Problem’ and ‘Into You’, while Tommy Brown, with whom she has collaborated on all four of her albums, also produced three songs.
  • ‘Sweetener’ is the first album released by Ariana since the terror attack at her show in Manchester last year, which took the lives of 22 concert-goers, which she alludes to on a handful of tracks.

S N A P   V E R D I C T

The ‘Sweetener’ album campaign got off to a strong start, with near-unanimous praise for lead single ‘No Tears Left To Cry’, an unapologetically joyful track which saw the singer sensitively moving on from the darkness of the past 12 months of her life.

‘No Tears…’ left fans excited for what was to come, but when ‘The Light Is Coming’ - the first of Pharrell Williams’ contributions to be heard by fans - debuted, it got a decidedly more mixed reception, largely thanks to a bewildering sample looped throughout the track.

At this point, it became more apparent that ‘Sweetener’ would be a mixed bag, particularly when the intriguingly-titled ‘God Is A Woman’ was revealed to be a guitar-led sultry ballad which, while it has received the thumbs up from the majority of fans, still wasn’t quite what anyone expected from the singer behind some of the biggest pop hooks of recent times.

‘Sweetener’ is now out, and the bad news for anyone put off by ‘The Light Is Coming’ is that Pharrell is all over this album, and ‘The Light Is Coming’ is very much the mood throughout.

Of the first seven songs on the album - of which one is a 30-second acapella intro, and another is the already-heard single ‘God Is A Woman’ - Pharrell took on producing duties on seven of them. And while we’re all for artists trying something new (we’d have loved another ‘Into You’, but let’s be real, the song wasn’t a huge hit, why would she use that as her inspiration moving forward?), the experimental R&B sound on ‘Sweetener’ grows tiresome pretty quickly. It’s a sound she’s flirted with on her previous albums, but she’s jumped into it feet-first this time around, and we’re not convinced this is a good fit for her.

‘Blazed’, the first of Pharrell’s tracks on the album, is fun enough, if not a little indistinctive (it’s not hard to imagine this having been lifted from Miley Cyrus’s ‘Bangerz’, on which Pharrell also contributed) but by the time we’d sat through the repetitive ‘R.E.M.’ and ‘Sweetener’, we were ready for some choruses we can get stuck in our heads the same way we did with her Ariana’s last album, ‘Dangerous Woman’.

Enter Max Martin and Ilya Salmanzadeh, who arrive on track eight with the first of their songs that isn’t a previous single and isn’t a 30-second mood-setter, ‘Everytime’. Unfortunately, while the song is noticeably more melodic and catchy than what comes before it, it’s still more understated than we’d have liked.

The closest ‘Sweetener’ comes to an ‘Into You’ moment is on ‘Breathin’, a track on which Ariana coaxes herself through an anxiety attack, which she previously revealed she suffered from in the wake of Manchester. The song builds and builds, and it’s not tough to imagine this will be the album cut that goes off the most on the inevitable ‘Sweetener’ tour.

Similarly, album closer ‘Get Well Soon’ - which would probably have served better as its opening song - sees Ariana once again singing about her mental state after the terror attack at her concert, switching between her own voice (“my body’s here on Earth but I’m floating”) and that of the people around her (“girl what’s wrong with you? Come back down”).

Both of these are album highlights, along with the Imogen Heap-infused ‘Goodnight N Go’ and the singles we already know and love, but they’re not enough to make up for an album that pretty much passes you by without making much of an impact.

‘Sweetener’ isn’t absolutely terrible, it’s just largely unremarkable… but in the fickle world of mainstream pop, sometimes that’s worse.

S T A N D - O U T   T R A C K S

‘God Is A Woman’

‘Breathin’

‘No Tears Left To Cry’

‘Goodnight N Go’

‘Get Well Soon’

T A K E   H O M E   M E S S A G E

We’re not suggesting Ariana Grande should have resorted to repeating herself and released ‘Into You 2.0’ just to please pop fans on Twitter, but we’d have preferred a bit more ‘No Tears Left To Cry’ than the repetitive Pharrell-fest we’ve been given.