Advertisement

Music Review: Ariana Grande triumphs over heartbreak on seventh studio album, ‘eternal sunshine’

This cover image released by Republic Records shows "Eternal Sunshine" by Ariana Grande. (Republic Records via AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The new Ariana Grande era — marked by her seventh studio album and first in nearly four years, “eternal sunshine,” began with a question — “Yes, And?”

The single — named after a general rule of thumb in improvisational comedy — marked a new musical pivot for the performer. Sure, she was working with one of the greatest pop producers of all time again — the mysterious Swedish powerhouse Max Martin — but now, she was filtering her earworm hooks through ‘90s house music. The bridge has echoes of “Vogue” (not unlike Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul” ) and its lyrics recall a kind of Lady Gaga “Born This Way" empowerment (an example: “Boy, come on, put your lipstick on/No one can tell you nothin’") while also offering a public defense to tabloid representation ("Don’t comment on my body, do not reply.") It's a great song, but it doesn't include Grande's signature runs; there's no larger-than-life vocal moment, what her listeners have come to know her for. In some ways, it makes “Yes, And?” a bit of a red herring on “eternal sunshine.”

Belt she does throughout the release — her idiosyncratic vocal tone stretches across the funky, finger-snapping, shimmery disco of “Bye." There's her breathy falsetto on “Don’t Wanna Break Up” (sung with “I’m too much to you/ So I really gotta do the thing I don’t wanna do," a reminder that this is her first album since her divorce from real estate agent Dalton Gomez ), the pop “Supernatural,” and the wobbly ’00s R&B pop of “True Story” like a long lost Destiny’s Child cut. In the latter, her weapons are once again raised: “I’ll play whatever part you need me to,” she sings. ”And, I’ll be good in it, too."

There's a kind of Y2K revivalism here done in distinct Grande fashion — and at least partially inspired by her girl group-inspired track “Fantasize,” which leaked on TikTok last summer. That's evident on a reimagination of “The Boy Is Mine," inspired by the Brandy and Monica classic, with a dramatic tempo change.

For a record completed in around three-and-a-half months — notably after she finished filming “Wicked,” as she told her fans long ago was the plan — there's marked innovation and evolution here. “Imperfect for you,” is another slight genre shift, with its distorted synths sounds like an out-of-tune guitar atop a blues-y trap beat. And there’s the big, Robyn-esque euro-pop production of “we can’t be friends (wait for your love)," which explodes into a string crescendo, electronic sounds effortlessly blending into organic ones.

There's also quite a bit of love on this album, for someone navigating life after marriage; the tragic loss of another partner, the rapper Mac Miller, who died of an accidental overdose; and the terrorist attack on her show in Manchester, England in 2017. Instead of leaning into a kind of overt optimism like on past releases — “Thank U, Next,” anyone? — Grande allows herself to feel it all, even when she wishes she couldn't.

Any missteps are blips — an overly explanative intro and interlude likely included to give the record a kind of “concept album” shape, as Grande has said in interviews, which could've been excised. The contradiction, of course, is that an apparently honesty on Grande's albums has always been a highlight: like in the closer “Ordinary Things," which includes a recording of her grandma (and a credit: “featuring Nonna.”)

Grande, a lifelong and well-documented Jim Carrey fan, lifted her album title from the 2004 rom-com “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” which centers the impossibility of erasing a relationship through the selective removal of memories. In the years since, the film has become a dorm room cult classic and, in an age of feminist blogging, criticized for its apparent perpetuation of a “manic pixie dream girl” stereotype (in the form of Kate Winslet's Clementine Kruczynski,) where a male protagonist fails to see a woman's complexities as a whole person, and rather, focuses on her idiosyncrasies and the ways in which she may “fix” him.

But the film is a bit more complex than that, something Grande might've known for a while now. On Grande's “eternal sunshine," various emotional depths and perceptions seem to layer on top one another. Often, she is in love and she is heartbroken, she is self-assured and she is struggling to figure out who she is, she is considering the way public perception has affected her and balking against it, she is Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet.

For the listener, it is a treat. Grande has released yet another strong R&B-pop record in which those complications are articulated but now maybe never solved, and with her range front and center. Yes, and it is worth a few listens.

___

AP music reviews: https://apnews.com/hub/music-reviews