Ariana Grande sure has pipes; unfortunately, they’re plastic with little depth.
“My Everything,” her second studio album, includes Grande-ur choruses that make or break each song. The effective ones send Grande’s Mariah Carey-infused vocals to unfair levels of catchiness. But the failed choruses, predictable and drawn-out, make “My Everything” disappointing as a whole.
Track one, “Intro,” ensues, and Grande’s Carey influence reigns full-force. She sounds like a bubblier Carey here (yes, bubblier than a songstress whose discography includes albums titled “Emotions,” “Butterfly” and “Glitter”). And although her nonsensical whooping features little coherency, it does showcase Grande’s most lethal — and only, for that matter — tool: her voice.
She exhibits it in the saxophone-built “Problem’s” verses, her lush vocals surrounding Iggy Azalea’s standout rap, and experiments with distinct tonal touches during a string of songs toward the album’s midpoint.
With sub-par lyrics, Grande’s words hold little substance, but the way she expresses them makes a handful of tracks worth listening to.
Medium-paced chords hover under drum kicks as “Why Try” starts, and Grande balances singing with casually spoken lines — until the chorus. There, she conquers each note, hitting the high ones with ease that’s only equaled by an athlete in the zone. Songs like “Why Try” hint at the control Grande has over her voice.
A few other moments from “My Everything” are plain fun as well.
Rappers run rampant throughout. A$AP Ferg shows versatility on “Hands on Me,” opting for bombastic, memorable chants. Big Sean fails to induce a headache with his rhyme from “Best Mistake,” a shining achievement considering his usual, well, terribleness.
In certain aspects, Grande’s sophomore effort does compare to ‘90s R&B albums by Carey, Mary J. Blige and even TLC, with well-executed guest appearances and many songs. But the comparison stops there: “My Everything” and its lazy production and snooze-inducing song writing hinder the overall listening experience.
As mentioned, Grande could sing a random, outlandish set of words like “taco, outhouse and marsupial” (which, in some cases, would improve upon the album’s actual lyrics) continuously, and, with her vocal talent, sound OK. But at least doing that would make things interesting. Formulaic lyrics lessen her voice’s power, and often, listeners can predict what she’ll say next because of little creativity.
Grande hides the dilapidated wordplay during the aforementioned collabos with Azalea, A$AP Ferg and Big Sean. However, she can’t hold down tracks like “One Last Time,” “Break Through” or the title track by herself.
A pop star’s ability to execute note-worthy solo performances separates Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Katy Perry from B-list artists like Jessie J, Kesha and Demi Lovato. For most of “My Everything,” Grande falls into the second category — possessing much talent but little else.
Grande shows glimpses of superstar instinct toward the end, yet each performance seems propped up by another guest appearance. Her over-reliance on friends seems fine during a song-by-song listen. Over an entire album’s course, though, she fades into the background like those beautiful vocals that pulse in and out repeatedly during the intro.
“My Everything” sounds fine in snippets, and Grande’s talent deserves recognition. But her great vocal gifts don’t make this a notable pop or R&B effort.
Final Rating: Two and a half out of Five Stars