This week we are focussing on the second album from Zara Larsson, a record that firmly toots its own horn entitled So Good. We'll be the judge of that, Zara. Although this is only Larsson's second album, doesn't it feel like she has been around forever? Her music career began at age 10 when she won what is essentially 'Sweden's Got Talent'. Her first album, imaginatively titled 1, went platinum in Sweden and led to a stint supporting X Factor supernova Cher Lloyd. Since then, she has had 3 UK Top Ten hits and, alongside David Guetta, provided us with one of the most cringeworthy football opening ceremony performances since Diana Ross missed that sitter in '94. If singing live (or even giving an ironclad facade of singing live) is not Larsson's forte then perhaps albums are. How good is So Good?
As you might expect, the album is a gathering of the five singles already released since 2015, padded out with a collection of original tracks (if you heard 'filler' then that is on you). Each are presented in a pseudo-dance style, just in time to be remixed and overplayed in clubs during the summer. Thematically, all the classic topics are covered:
Struggling to make it in the music industry
Living life to the fullest
Regret after a break up
Being judged for being a party girl
Never being able to get over someone
Wanting the bad boy
Being in a relationship that you know is not good for you but not wanting to leave
I must confess that Lush Life did form part of my summer soundtrack in 2016, not quite to Umbrella levels but I did hear it a lot. Once removed from that context, it doesn't hold up well. It is the song equivalent of the holiday version of you – the person who wears espadrilles with white canvas shorts, who sips erotically named cocktails from the inside of fruits and who takes naps and calls them siestas. Hearing it now is returning to your terraced house in rainy Hull and resuming your monotonous career at the builders' merchants. The exotic maelstrom we were all swept up in has now subsided and we can see Lush Life for what it really is – vacuous tat.
The rest of the record does not fare much better. Make That Money is an excruciating attempt at a female empowerment anthem – Asda Smart Price Lemonade, if you will. The auditory car crash that is Sundown is notable only for the practical advice provided by guest artist Wizkid – “when you need me girl, call my phone”. Well, thank you for that rudimentary explanation of the global communications network, Wizkid. There might be something to third single Ain't My Fault if it didn't fall back on lyrics like “You just made me trip, fall and land on your lap” - yeah, that old chestnut. In fact, the only track in which I see a great deal of worth is closing single Symphony, recorded in collaboration with Clean Bandit. I would argue though that says more about the latter than the former.
I am a staunch defender of pop music. I think it gets a bit of a hard time for unashamedly catering to the masses through adopting a somewhat formulaic approach – a slightly preposterous allegation and one that you would think the word 'popular' might have prepared people for. Pop music when done well (selected works of Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Ellie Goulding, One Direction, to name but a few) can be very enjoyable and sneering at it is firmly entrenched in the realms of the non-Moron.
That being said, So Good is so terrible (see how optimistic fanfares can come back to bite you?). It is sickeningly saccharine, shallower than a Saharan puddle and synthetically produced into submission. My favourite pop album by a solo female artist is probably Katy Perry's Teenage Dream. The topics covered are similar but comparing the two is like sending a rooster into the ring with a rhino. Perry handles her album with class, diversity and a real understanding of what brings out the best in her voice. Larsson's album, on the other hand, is all over the place – playing the bad girl whilst not even giving a convincing indication that she is anything other than an emotionless automaton.
I have the same feelings about this album as I did when Cascada released any one of their albums in the noughties – what was the point? Streaming services have changed the market so that singles have an increasing amount of value and it was an area in which Zara Larsson was having a modicum of success. There are a number of musicians now who play a musical version of Alan Sugar's 'smell what sells' Apprentice task – divine the charts before dipping into a stack of pre-recorded tracks and thrusting them into the limelight with heavy PR backing. If this is Larsson's aforementioned forte, perhaps that is what she should stick to and leave releasing albums to the artists with something of substance to say.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Lyric Of The Week
“Had one chance to make me blush//Second time is one too late”
As a bad girl, releases
A pointless album
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