The Knack Music Reviews

Demi LovatoDemi Lovato Lays It All Bare on 'Confident': Album Review

Since her emancipation from the Disney Channel’s clutches, Demi Lovato has become one of pop’s leading motivational figures, wailing songs about self-empowerment and talking to Congress about destigmatizing mental illness. Openly discussing her struggles with bipolar disorder, bulimia and substance abuse, she has settled into herself in a manner similar to put-it-all-out-there pop stars like Miley Cyrus and Pink. Even the 23-year-old’s winkingly sapphic smash “Cool for the Summer,” the first single from her fifth album, Confident, operates in be-yourself mode.

Lovato’s sultry growling about “something that we want to try” and the pulsing track’s tinkling piano bring heat as the days grow shorter, but “Summer” is a somewhat deceptive lead-in to Confident. Befitting Lovato’s rough journey, the songs are moodier and heavier; even uptempo cuts like the defiant “Old Ways” and the swinging title track have darkness lurking underneath, like they’re sonically rebuking anyone who wants to get in Lovato’s way.

In some ways, Confident updates the adult-contemporary album archetype for tween graduates. Throughout, Lovato’s clarion voice is front and center on midtempo tracks that assert her stronger-than-yesterday bona fides. The majestic devotional “For You” has a backup choir singing “For you I would do anything” as Lovato sings about summoning strength, her performance making her inner power even more plain. “Stone Cold,” a post-breakup love letter, puts Lovato squarely in Adele mode; she’s belting out the verses but downright wistful when she drops her voice and breathes “I’m happy for you” to her former lover, who has found comfort in another. The Ryan Tedder/StarGate collaboration “Wildfire” is a little more forward-sounding, with pillowy synths and snaps floating around her voice. At times the pace can be a bit monotonous, but Lovato’s strong alto keeps things tight.

Lovato invited only female MCs to guest, an admirable gesture in line with the girl-power message that drives Confident. But the album’s overall statement might have been stronger had she gone totally solo. Iggy Azalea’s underwhelming comeback verse (“Gather ’round, now I’m back from my holiday/Long live the queen what the people say”) drags down “Kingdom Come,” while rapper Sirah’s breathy contribution to the vengeful “Waitin’ for You” blunts the song’s stark effect.

Confident closes with “Father,” a choir-assisted elegy for Lovato’s biological father, who died in 2013. He and Lovato had been estranged for six years prior to his death, and the lyrics are a raw trip through psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief. On it, Lovato sings about regret and guilt, about clung-to anger and, eventually, the hope that he’s in a more peaceful place. It’s a jaw-dropping finale and makes Confident more than just an album title. Lovato not only channels her mourning, she exposes its uglier side (“You did your best/Or did you?/Sometimes I think I hate you,” she sings at one point).

Lovato’s growth since her debut as a tween TV star has been public, and it hasn’t been without stumbles. But her willingness to own every step and misstep, and to show her audience how the rough times helped her become the woman she is, makes Confident a surprisingly compelling listen.

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Carly Rae JepsenCarly Rae Jepsen: E•MO•TION

Album Review

The third album from Canadian pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen, E•MO•TION, is aptly titled. Jepsen is truly in love with being in love, and she lives to feel her feelings. "Oh, baby, take me to the feeling," she croons to her beau on album opener "Run Away With Me." "This is the part you've got to say all that you're feeling, feeling."

The title track delivers more of the same: "Let your feelings be revealing/ … This emotion, I feel it/This emotion, you feel it/All that we could do with this emotion."

Listening to lines bursting with so many sensations, I couldn't help but think of one-hit-wonder Morris Albert's 1975 song that told us life was little more than a dance with our "feelings … nothing more than … feelings … for all my life I'll feel it."

Pro-social Content

"All That" is filled with romantic promises of friendship and commitment ("I will be your friend/ … I'll be your lighthouse when you're lost to sea/I'll keep my light on, baby, you can always come to me/I wanna be the place you call your home/ … Oh, let me be the one/The only one"). Puppy-love eagerness saturates "Gimme Love," as Jespen confesses, "I know I said that I'm too scared to try/But still think about you, think about you/And I can't lie/I like the feeling, you make me shy." And "Warm Blood" says, "I would throw in the towel for you, boy/'Cause you lift me up when I'm falling for you."

"L.A. Hallucinations" rightly recognizes that money and material things won't fill holes in hearts ("But money makes your whole world spin/'Til everything is dizzy/ … Planes I'm hopping/Cards I'm dropping/No shop can fill me up/ … There's a little black hole in my golden cup").

"Boy Problems" finds a friend confronting an overly emotional, pessimistic woman about her attitudes toward men. "So tired of hearin' all your boy problems," the friend tells her. "It could be the perfect day/You'll just make it rain anywhere." Jepsen responds, "I know that she's right/And I should not be offended." Later, she asks the rhetorical question, "What's worse?/Losing a lover or losing your best friend?" She answers her own question, telling her latest troubling boy, "She's been giving, you've been taking." Similarly, "When I Needed You" tells the tale of a woman who has enough self-respect to cut loose a guy who isn't willing to be there for her when she really needs him.

At first, "Making the Most of the Night" sounds like it's going to be a booty-call song, with Jepsen racing recklessly across town in the middle of the night ("Baby, I'm speeding and red lights are run"). But it turns out that she's perhaps trying to rescue a guy from a suicide attempt ("I know you've had a rough time/ … Baby, take my hand, now don't you cry/I won't let you sleep, I won't let you hide/No more tears, don't waste another day/Go on and fight, don't lay down to die/Come on, you'll make it through OK/ … I love you").

Objectionable Content

"Run Away With Me" includes the suggestive lyric, "You're stuck in my head, stuck on my heart, stuck on my body, body/ … I'll be your sinner in secret." "All my kisses, say you'll miss it/And you can forget me not," Jepsen sings on the title track. And the lip-locking on "I Really Like You" could easily be a prelude to more ("Yeah, we could stay alone, you and me, in this temptation/Sipping on your lips, hanging on by a thread, baby").

Lyrics on the forthright "Gimme Love" cross over from emotional to physical with, "Gimme touch/ … Fall into me/ … 'Cause I want what I want, boy, you, it's what I need/ … You got a hold of me the whole d--n night." When that tryst doesn't happen, Jepsen regretfully sings, "I toss and turn but still I can't sleep right/I should've asked you to stay, begged you to stay." Lines on "All That" could also be heard as a reference to sex ("I wanna be the best you've ever known/Just let me in your arms").

Summary Advisory

E•MO•TION feels like a throwback to a more earnest time. It's devoid of winking irony or sarcasm, slaps at other divas or double entendres snared by naughtiness. At a time when even supposed "good girls" like Demi Lovato feel compelled to sing about diving enthusiastically into, say, a same-sex relationship, Carly Rae Jepsen comes across as downright anachronistic.

Her material's hardly innocent, mind you. There's enough suggestiveness here to show us that Jepsen has no problem translating her myriad feelings into something more sensually physical. Still, I couldn't help but think about the likes of Debbie Gibson while listening to Carly Rae pour her heart out in an array of bubblegum pop tracks pining away for a guy to love her so she can love him back. And in between a few of the sugary bubbles we even get a candy jewel or two of deeper insight.

On "Gimme Love," Jepsen tells a guy, "'Cause I want what I want," then asks, "Do you think that I want too much?" That's a great question, actually. Because it's very clear here that Carly Rae Jepsen is hungry for love, security, intimacy and acceptance. Those are good desires, the kind that can be fulfilled in a good marriage and an even better relationship with God. But in her rush to realize those desires right now, the singer throws caution to the wind, unwisely giving herself—heart, soul and body—to whoever is the latest guy she longs to believe can make all those good feelings last forever.

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Walk The MoonMusic Review: Shut Up And Dance By Walk The Moon

It's possible to overthink things. Sometimes we just need to seize the moment. That's the main message on "Shut Up and Dance," a frothy, infectious homage to the music of the 1980s from the Cincinnati foursome known as Walk the Moon.

Frontman Nicholas Petricca says the song's imperative instruction in the chorus—a woman commanding, "Shut up and dance with me!"—was inspired by his girlfriend. "We were in Los Angeles, trying to write songs, and I was stuck," he tells Mashable. "For a breather I went out with my girlfriend to the Echo; they have this awesome party where they play Motown and funk. We were at the bar, and it was taking forever to get a drink. I was frustrated because there was great music playing and I wanted to be out there. She was like, 'Shut up and dance with me!'"

Just like that a song was born. And it's become the band's first mainstream hit.

A New Wave-ish beat blends with synthesizers and rock guitar in ways that sound unmistakably early '80s. "The band had been listening to songs like [Rick Springfield's] 'Jessie's Girl' and [The Cars'] 'Just What I Needed' and [Pat Benatar's] 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot'—these super quirky rock anthems," Petricca says. "They're simple and beautiful and in-your-face rock songs, and that's the vibe we were looking for."

"Shut Up and Dance" opens theatrically with a back-and-forth conversation between two people who've locked eyes at a dance club "'Oh, don't you dare look back/Just keep your eyes on me'/I said, 'You're holding back'/She said, 'Shut up and dance with me'"). Our reluctant dance floor hero is quickly convinced their connection is nothing less than fate ("This woman is my destiny/ … Oh, we were bound to get together/ … I knew we were bound to get together/ … Deep in her eyes/I think I see the future/I realize this is my last chance").

But it turns out her eyes may not be the only thing that's attracted his gaze: "A backless dress and some beat up sneaks/My discotheque Juliet, a teenage dream/I felt it in my chest as she looked at me." And another line that hints at his physical response is, "We were victims of the night/The chemical, physical, kryptonite/Helpless to the bass and the fading light."

Obviously, there's chemistry here. The kind that has a twitterpated dude spontaneously plotting out the future with the would-be woman of his dreams. But as dance floor rendezvous go, this one never ventures into territory any more problematic than that.

The video, meanwhile, is arguably even more of a love letter to all things '80s than the song itself, deliberately mimicking visual motifs from The Cars', Michael Jackson's and A-ha's videos, among other influences. Petricca plays the part of an insecure guy trying to work up the courage to dance with a whirling dervish of a girl who's as passionate as he is initially reserved.

True to the lyrics, she's got that short, backless dress on. And an overtly over-the-top sequence late in the video finds Petricca doing some suggestive hip thrusts. We also see a passionate kiss … that you could argue leads to the imagined wedding scene serving as the culmination of their attraction.

It's all in keeping with the flashy-but-superficial decade that both the song and video were modeled upon (even the part showing two guys in the band jokingly acting as if they're going to kiss, too). "The weird was really celebrated, you know?" Petricca says. "I think bands and so many seminal artists, like David Bowie and the Talking Heads, were really at the peak of their weirdness and kookiness. They were so committed to whatever dreamlike, fantasy world they were adopting at the time."

Talking with American Songwriter, Petricca adds that it's all about "encouraging people to let go of whatever it is that's bothering you and get into your body and out of your head." And while that can easily be taken too far, the fantasy world on display here is one that everyone who's ever gone through an awkward phase—which is most of us—will likely relate to (even if its sometimes carnal club scene setting isn't). "When it comes to writing the lyrics, it's usually just me emoting in a cave, trying to channel the spirits of rock and roll onto the paper," says Petricca. "After I had that main bit in the chorus, I started picturing myself in high school because that's what it really reminded me of. Being this incredibly uncomfortable, awkward adolescent dude, so it sort of became this anthem for the dork who is 100% me."

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Rachel PlattenRachel Platten: Fight Song

Rachel Platten is a singer-songwriter currently on tour with Andy Grammer and Alex & Sierra, and best known for her hit single “Fight Song.” We spoke with Rachel to find out all about her song and the tour, and to ask Rachel a few questions about herself!

What was the inspiration behind “Fight Song” and what was it like when the song was featured on Pretty Little Liars?
I wrote “Fight Song” when I was at a crossroad in my life: on the outside there was a lot of hard stuff going on and a lot of reasons to give up on myself… but through writing the song, I made the decision to not listen to that small mean voice that was telling me I wasn’t good enough. I decided to keep believing in myself no matter what. Hearing it on Pretty Little Liars was really exciting. I’m a fan of the show after watching only a couple episodes and I love how Alison’s character really embodied the words that I wrote. I got so many tweets asking if I wrote the song specifically for her – which was so funny because I understand how it can seem that way, but really it was just for me I needed the song.

What has it been like so far to join Andy Grammar and Alex & Sierra on tour? 
It’s been amazing!! They’re all such talented artists, and more importantly kind people. Every tour we go on, my drummer and I look at each other and ask, wow, how did we get so lucky to be on the road with such nice people?? But this one especially. The guys in Paradise Fears are also really sweet and talented and and good dressing room sharers.

What can we expect from you next?
I feel like even though I’ve been doing this for so long…my career is really just starting in many ways. “Fight Song” feels like the song that I always needed to write, and it’s so exciting that the rest of the world is starting to hear it. So you can expect a lot more touring, a lot of new music, and a lot of huge goofy smiles from stage because I really can’t hide how excited I am.

Anything to add?
I appreciate every single comment and message I’ve been getting about “Fight Song” and I’m so grateful that the song seems to be having such a positive impact. I believe we are strengthened by sharing our stories, even if they are hard to tell. If anyone feels moved to post about how fight song has empowered them or helped them overcome something, please join my campaign #MyFightSong and maybe I can meet you and be inspired back in return.


And from

"I wrote 'Fight Song' at a real low moment of feeling like, 'Should I quit?'" the singer-songwriter recalls.

It was the moment Rachel Platten had been visualizing for over a decade: setting foot onstage in a sold-out stadium, having the bright lights shine on her as thousands of onlookers sang along to her smash single.

The 34-year-old's dream turned into reality on Saturday night (June 13) when Platten performed her Top 40 hit "Fight Song" in front of 50,000 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Sure, it wasn't her show -- Platten was the special guest during Taylor Swift's 1989 tour performance. Yet with Swift belting out the song beside her, Platten led the stadium in a rendition of the song she wrote to keep herself from quitting music altogether.

Platten tells Billboard that the most emotional moment of the evening came immediately before she joined Swift onstage midway through the 1989 performance. "One thing I remember was when the bench was rising -- I was down there [in the rafters], and I was listening to Taylor introduce the song, and I was probably about to lose it for half a second," she recalls. "When the bench rose up and I saw all the twinkling lights and Taylor, I just got so calm and centered. It was exactly how it hoped it would be."

"Fight Song," Platten's self-empowerment sing-along with a chorus that recalls Kelly Clarkson's most chest-thumping anthems, has been slowly infiltrating pop radio after originally being released last June to a muted industry reaction. The song reaches a new peak at No. 25 on the current Hot 100 chart -- and it may rise even higher, now that Platten has Swift in her corner. Prior to Saturday's performance in Philadelphia, Swift posted an Instagram video of herself singing the "Fight Song" hook next to Platten, and the short clip has over 1 million likes on the platform.

The Instagram video was recorded in Pittsburgh, where Swift performed at Heinz Field on June 6. Platten was in the city that day performing at a radio station in the afternoon, and her manager worked with Swift's manager to make the backstage meet-up happen following the 1989 tour performance.

"She radiates love and kindness," Platten says of Swift. "We gave each other a huge hug. I wasn't sure she would know -- I was like, 'Really? You know who I am?' She was like 'Of course! I love your song!'"

Swift has made her love of "Fight Song" no secret, and Platten now has the ear of one of pop's biggest superstar after toiling in obscurity for the first 12 years of her career. After releasing her first independent album in 2003, the Massachusetts native spent years scrapping for gigs, grinding out small tours and trying to figure out how to make a dent in the music industry.

"I've been trying to do this for a long time, and I got rejected a lot," Platten says. "I had some successes as well, but it didn't really feel like I had a chance anymore. … I wrote 'Fight Song' at a real low moment of feeling like, 'Should I quit? Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was deluding myself.' There weren't a lot of signs to keep going. But something in me -- this tiny little crazy voice -- would not let me quit. That song was the apex of that moment where it was like, 'You are not quitting. If nobody else believes in you, you have to believe in yourself.'"

"Fight Song" started to slowly find a following on YouTube, and a Pretty Little Liars synch helped the song reach a wider audience as it started taking off at radio (the song has peaked at No. 10 on the Adult Pop Songs chart). The single led the four-song Fight Song EP, which was released last month on Columbia Records and precedes a major-label debut album.

"I feel like I have some stuff that matches 'Fight Song,' not in necessarily the message exactly but in the emotion and honesty," says Platten of her upcoming material. The singer-songwriter has been working with producer Jon Levine and estimates that she's penned 150 songs for her upcoming album, which will "definitely" be out before the end of 2015.

Until then, Platten will continue enjoying the "Fight Song" ride and keeping in touch with Swift, who met up with the rising pop artist after the conclusion of Saturday night's show. "We just had a humongous hug," says Platten. "I was crying, of course -- I can't seem to stop crying tears of joy lately."

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She’s Kinda Hot: 5 Seconds of Summer

5 Seconds of Summer have slowly been prepping the release of a new album, and now the first taste of the follow-up to its self-titled 2014 LP has arrived. Today (July 17), 5SOS unveiled the new lyric video for its sophomore effort's lead single, "She's Kinda Hot."

Channeling the ebbs and flows of My Chemical Romance's 2007 hit "Teenagers" mixed with the vocals of Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump, "She's Kinda Hot" takes 5 Seconds of Summer mildly away from the poppier sound that helped launch them to super stardom and brings back the acoustic guitar the band first rose to fame for.

At its core, "She's Kinda Hot" is a quirky little number, with marimbas sitting just below the surface of the picked guitar work in the opening verses. To fit with the song's funky little melody, 5SOS sing about being alright despite society telling them otherwise. "My shrink is telling me I got crazy dreams / She's also saying that I got no self esteem / She's kinda hot though / She put me on meds, won't get out of my head / She's kinda hot though," the group sings in the opening verse in a theme that continues throughout the rest of the track. Despite being losers of slobs or a little insane, 5SOS is alright and the leader of a new broken scene.

What helps "She's Kinda Hot" to be a glimmering spot in 5 Seconds of Summer's discography is the chorus, when the acoustic guitars and marimbas drop out and the tight power chords and punchy percussion kick back in. It's the sort of hook that will get stuck in your head for more than five seconds this summer.

After one of the worst-kept secrets in pop history (some of you lot should literally be recruited by MI5) and an announcement involving some dude spray painting a wall for two hours, 5SOS's brand new single 'She's Kinda Hot' is finally out there and ready to penetrate our patient little lugholes.
Yup - Ashton Irwin, Calum Hood, Michael Clifford and Luke Hemmings might still be buzzing about on the Rock Out With Your Socks Out tour, but they've sort of written this new song with John Feldmann and The Madden Brothers that they just can't keep to themselves.
It's premiered/currently premiering on radio across the planet, and now we're gonna talk about this introduction to the so-called 'new broken scene.' Hooray.

Nothing 5SOS have done before, actually. Of course 'She's Kinda Hot' is a slice of polished punk-pop at its roots; that's what these boys do best. But this just feels like a step up, y'know? A game changer. A new milestone in 5 Seconds of Summer's journey from Sydney schoolboys to fully-fledged punk rock royalty.

Like, here's the thing; the lads' debut's obviously bloody brilliant and we love every single song on that damn record. What they've done with 'She's Kinda Hot,' though, is taken that winning formula (the cheekiness of 'Good Girls,' those killer 'She Looks So Perfect' hooks, that punch-pow-pow 'English Love Affair' instrumental) and made it even more 5SOS.

Let's face it, some of the songs on the debut were well old; written by boys just waiting till they were 18 (k, maybe not Ashton) and trying to make sense of the world, girls and everything in between.

While older stuff like 'Kiss Me Kiss Me' had a cute naïvety about it, 'She's Kinda Hot' is confident, ballsy and loads of other adjectives that essentially equate to AWESOME. This track properly harks back to the early-to-mid noughties heyday of pop-punk. It wouldn't sound out of place on The Offspring's Conspiracy of One album, could easily fit on Sum 41's All Killer, No Filler and even has a Weezer vibe about it. Yet somehow, despite sounding a bit like all of the above, it's still unmistakably 5SOS.
Right, we're blabbing. Sorry. It's just really frickin' good.

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