The roads Demi Lovato walked were never an easy walk. Since the uncomplicated teen pop of her 2008 debut ‘Don’t Forget’, as she got older, her music morphed into a flavor of smoky soul and glossy R&B, driven by her highly emotional voice and increasingly controversial lyrics inspired by the complications of her life. psyche, the mire of sanity, a wasted childhood, and the algebra of need that is addiction. Lovato has had her bruises, and you can pretty much hear that in her music.
In January, she announced on Instagram that she had held a “funeral” for her pop and R&B sides, which probably didn’t come as a shock to anyone who knows how Lovato usually gets done with an exciting life and career moves based on mood, emotion and self-discovery. That she actually went ahead and amplified the crunchy guitars and industrialized rhythms, added a patina of crunch to her usually clear vocals, and went for the emo-rocking whole of “Holy Fvck” is actually a bit surprising: how many pop artists announce that take a big turn and actually do it?
There’s genuine anger and outrage to be found in “Holy Fvck,” including a title that can keep the physical versions out of some family-friendly stores, no matter what subterfuge they use. (Wal-Mart only has it available via email.) There’s enough spiky in the overall production and songwriting (primarily by Lovato, Warren “Oak” Felder, Alex Niceforo, and Keith “Ten4” Sorrells) to shred your fishing nets. But above all, it’s the reality of a hard quarrel that makes this record rough and gross – even if it’s closer to melodic Avril Lavigne punk pop with an intrusive Travis Barker than, say, the deeper darks of a Trent Reznor.
“Trying to master the art of loosening,” as she claims on “Substance,” Lovato’s cocky yet highly melodic vocals are supported by rabid, rapid-fire guitars, sprite, puck-like rhythms, and a killer chorus. That same vibe—a blink-and-miss-it Blink 182 punch—applies easily to “Skin of My Teeth,” “Come Together,” and the high-pitched, sharply sexualized “City of Angels.”
The carnival music-inspired “Freak” gets a dose of harsh distortion from a loud, well-thumbed bassline and some frenzied screamo vocals from Demi and her guest, Yungblud. The melody and drive are both reminiscent of Stone Temple Pilots’ glam-grunge classic ‘Vasoline’. And that’s a great thing. Even stealing the stuttering industrial pulse of Marilyn Manson’s “Beautiful People” for her own “Heaven” – Jesus refers and all – presents a portrait of a young artist with a hardened heart, muted religiosity and un-joyful music befitting the life that preceded “Holy Fvck.” I don’t know if I really believe Lovato is absolute “truth and darkness…like the snake in the garden” as she sings to the sloppy stutter of the title track, but you gotta love her gal by trying to be both angel and devil.
God. Dead. drugs. Demise. It doesn’t matter how far she goes or how existential she goes on ‘Holy Fvck’, if you’ve paid attention to Lovato’s last few records (particularly the post-rehab ‘Dancing with the Devil… the Art of Starting Over’, just 16 months ago), Lovato makes it all sound tasty and even pop-worthy, despite that recent funeral announcement. Which is nice. Lovato’s level of crunchy dedication is always on par with her new album’s harsh overall tenor, even if she hasn’t completely given up on her pop instincts after all.
Not every song on “Holy Fvck” is grungy or even grungy. Aside from her mocking, sing-along vocals and his willow-like guitars, the slow “29” — already widely seen as an angry dig at the age difference between her and her older former boyfriend, Wilmer Valderrama — and the slower, more harmonious “Wasted” both could be almost dazzling lullabies for children. For any fan of Lovato’s vocal prowess, you know she really hits the soaring highs of “Wasted”. The acoustic guitar plucked “4 Ever 4 Me” rises and falls like a sun-drenched waterfall.
The only bad thing about Lovato’s big-sounding brand of bugged, mean power-pop is that they For real wants you to know she turned bad, and is really mad about the whole process. From the album cover’s crucifix and bondage to the ubiquitous burnt Kohl vibe to her repeated self-reference that she’s “godless but heaven-sent,” this even darker Demi is determined not to let anyone forget for a moment that she’s been. changed by the complicated circumstances of her life, and that going punk is her best refuge. A little subtlety could have gone a long way in making her spiky ends stand out.
Still, ‘Holy Fvck’ is a good surprise and an even better record — perhaps the best we’ve heard from Lovato so far.