Selena Gomez fans can rejoice. Not only has she just released Revival, a magnificent new pop opus, it has officially claimed the Number One spot on the Billboard 200, selling an impressive 117,000 copies in its first week of release. This makes it her second Number One record on Billboard, her remarkable previous album, Stars Dance, having sold 97,000 copies during its first week out. So, those who have considered her a B level pop star or just a former Disney princess can please shut up now.
It’s interesting that Gomez has titled the album Revival, but it would seem to be the perfect choice, as the word can signal new improvement and strength, as well as a case of something becoming popular or important (again). Chances are Gomez chose it to signal her new post-Bieber, post-tabloid strength and how she wants to become popular and important — or at least taken seriously — for her work (as opposed to her reputation). In other words, she’s a phoenix rising right now.The album opens with the title track, Gomez speaking the words, “I dive into the future / But I’m blinded by the sun / I’m reborn in every moment / So who knows what I’ll become.” It might seem self-indulgent or silly for a 23 year old to speak those words, but if you were in her well-watched shoes you might, too. Besides, as “Revival” goes on, it proves to be more self-empowering than indulgent. “I’ve been under self restoration,” she sings during the first verse. “I’m becoming my own salvation.” As heavy beats pound away with throbbing bass behind them, and what sounds like a brief, almost industrial guitar buzz in the background, you can’t help but fall under its spell. Plus, it’s mighty inspiring when she sings, “It’s my, my, my time to butterfly.” One feels lucky to watch her spread her wings.
Perhaps her biggest strength is knowing what her voice is capable of and never pushing it so far that it cracks, each song on Revival well within her range. And one of the things Gomez does exquisitely is sing about sex without sounding over the top, as she did in a perfectly subtle manner on this summer’s hit “Good For You.” It was simpering, but also a bit shy. Perhaps the song’s genius was in the way it was submissive but also unshackled. She wanted to “wear that dress you like skin tight,” but recognized that she was the one with the Midas touch, the marquis diamond, not him. In other words, she sounded eager to please him, yet in control nevertheless.
On the Rock Mafia and Benny Blanco-produced “Kill Em With Kindness,” she sings, “Your lies are bullets / Your mouth’s a gun.” The whole song could be aimed at the tabloids. When she sings “Kill em with kindness” over and over on the hook, she could be reminding herself not to lose her cool next time they won’t leave her alone. In any case, it’s one of the album’s many dance floor-primed anthems and a superb one at that.
Another discotheque-ready song is “Hands To Myself.” The Max Martin and company beats might be somewhat understated during the verses, which find Gomez cooing the lyrics as much as singing them, but they’re massive during the chorus, which finds her singing, “Can’t keep my hands to myself / Hands to myself.” The album’s climax happens here when she pushes her voice just high enough and playfully sings, “I mean I could but why would I want to.”
Current hit “Same Old Love” was co-written by CHARLI XCX and four dudes — most of the songs here have approximately five co-writers, Gomez usually among them — but it’s Charli’s sticky fingerprints that are all over it. But it’s not the punked out Charli of late, it’s the less over-the-top Charli who made the stellar album True Romance. It’s here that Selena first swears on the album, “I’m so sick of that same old love / That shit it tears me up.” With that one word, she shows that she’s older and bolder and it’s arguably a middle finger to moms who still buy her albums for their young kids. (Although you’d think the fact that she bares so much skin on the cover would be indication enough.) It’s also insanely catchy and the production couldn’t be any more exquisite. But then the production of the entire album is impeccable.Elsewhere, the contagious “Me & My Girls” has a fun Britney Spears’ vibe. Think Blackout or Circus, though it’s a bit closer to the former. One thing is for certain: it’s a brilliant rainbow of a pop diamond that not only packs some invigorating beats, sure to get one dancing, it’s also fleshed out to perfection with actual instruments; guitars, keyboards, saxophone and trumpet. And it demands to be a single.
The four bonus tracks — assuming you buy the Target edition, which has two exclusives — are all as solid as the rest of the album. “Nobody” is a sweet R&B ballad that calls to mind various K-Pop ballads released this year. “Perfect” is an especially melancholic song that finds Gomez singing about how the woman her boyfriend is cheating on her with is perfect. (“Curious bout the company you keep / Cause I hear you talking bout her in your sleep / And now you got me talking bout her in mine”) Gomez wrote “Outta My Hands (Loco)” with Antonina Armato and Tim James; it’s simple but addictive pop number with a bit of a Spanish pop vibe, particularly in the percussion, although the only word in said language is loco. Finally, we have “Cologne,” a mid-tempo ballad so strong it’s astounding that they only made it a bonus track. (It could have been a big hit single.) The Stargate-produced number is a sad song, to be sure, but there’s a hopefulness in the way Gomez sings it. “Every second here without you / I pretend we’re skin to skin / Every single breath reminds me / That you never left,” she sings longingly during the emotive chorus. “Every time I think about you / I can feel my hand give in / Because you’re keeping me safe and warm / Even when I’m home alone / Wearing nothing but your cologne.” Its sentimentality is ripened to perfection, no more and no less.
There have been quite a few spectacular pop albums released this year. Halsey, Melanie Martinez, Carly Rae Jepsen and CHVRCHES, just to name a few. But if you’re looking for something smiling, as opposed to solemn, Revival is a must-have. In some ways, it might even be better than the rest, given the way that it inspires the listener to get up and dance and have FUN, whereas so many of the year’s other pop records are more thought-provoking than amusing, more grave than pleasurable. If you’ve been wishing Katy Perry had released a new album this year, Revival is as close to that as you’re going to get, and it’s a wonderful thing.