Willow: Lately I Feel EVERYTHING Album Review
Willow Smith wants to enroll at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study physics. She wants to know more about the “beautiful mystery” of the invisible, she says. But all of that is apparently five years from now. In the meantime, she has written an unofficial dissertation on a different imperceptible force: anxiety and the feelings that accompany it. Just before the pandemic lockdown last year, she and her creative (and supposedly handsome) collaborator Tyler Cole rented space at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, where they locked themselves in a box for 24 hours to perform. the “Eight Stages of Anxiety.” “Songs from the duo’s recent album, aptly titled Anxiety, played in a loop. This ambitious project left questions unanswered: she and Cole scribbled “Why are we here?” “And” What inspires you? On the walls of MOCA, with no apparent answer. Willow’s fourth solo album continues to unveil her lifelong struggles against extremes of human emotion, using a multitude of pop-rock styles ranging from nu-metal to pop-punk to express joy and fear, pride and paranoia. Or as the record title says, lately I feel EVERYTHING.
Willow’s pivot to snotty power chords and tuned riffs might raise eyebrows after a three-album run of fluid R&B mixed with folkloric mysticism. But his fascination with the harsher sounds of rock feels like a natural progression, which combines his family’s musical history with his self-proclaimed love for the genre. Willow grew up watching her mother, Jada Pinkett Smith, play the role of a rare nu-metal singer with her band Wicked Wisdom. She easily expresses her musical inspirations – My Chemical Romance, Paramore, Fefe Dobson – and, perhaps because of her mother’s musical background, feels comfortable with the intricacies of hard rock subgenres: Day, but in interviews, she takes care to distinguish this sound from Zumiez’s “younger” rock bent.
At lately I feel EVERYTHING, she and her co-producer Cole are developing their abilities as songwriters and rock musicians. Both are passionate guitarists, which they alluded to with bluesy riffs on previous albums. But from the first bars of “Transparent Soul”, the guitar is paramount – it is filtered and faded over the brutal intro of “Gaslight”, swirling and reverberating on “naive”, slow burning and brassy on “Come Home” and “¡BURST!” It’s also a noticeably stronger backdrop for her vocals – on songs like “Gaslight” and “Lipstick,” she belts with impressive control, screaming without tone for a moment and sliding over multiple notes. of a syllable the following. The marriage of disparate rock subgenres works because its instrumentation shares a common perspective of the early 2000s: the echoing guitars on “XTRA” are reminiscent of the disaffected pop-rock of Pink’s. Missundaztood or early Kelly Clarkson. And in a nod to the legacy of saucy leaders from the Warped Tour past, she launches “Fuck You”, a predictable, explicit 30-second interlude, as if to show that she knows that evoking this particular era of rock requires a casual sense of humor.
Where previous albums were often weighed down by the heady spiritual preoccupations and muscular musical idolatry of Willow, lately I feel EVERYTHING succeeds when it examines human feelings. Willow skillfully writes about the experience of anxiety: the desire to push loved ones away on “doesn’t save me”, the painful self-awareness of “naive” and the need for connection associated with the fear of codependency on ” coming home ”it all rings painfully true and incredibly nuanced. She also has the knack of knowing when her words could be louder on someone else’s tongue. the viola arrives as a warm embrace with fingerless gloves from the pop-punk past. Like many of the genre’s biggest hits, it is so saturated with catchphrases that it succeeds despite its somewhat easy writing; more importantly, at just over two minutes he puts everything on the table and comes out before the melodies get old.
Yet there is a void at the heart of his pop-punk explorations. It’s perhaps harder to relate to his struggles with sycophants and prodigious fame on “Transparent Soul” than, say, the pains of unrequited love or the frustrations of adolescence. His messages about the power of self-esteem on songs like “Gaslight” are overly optimistic with enthusiasm, like a motivational speaker signed to Hopeless Records. And, as with many pop-punk revivalists who have been caught under Barker’s wing, his songs with him sound a bit pre-made, as if Barker is just switching between presets on the Blink-182 machine. While he probably has good intentions, Barker’s influence on current mainstream pop-punk has massively flattened the genre, reducing it to his undoubtedly impressive drum solos and a few brilliant power chords. Willow succeeds where Barker’s other prodigies – Jxdn, Machine Gun Kelly, Yungblud – falter because she, like Olivia Rodrigo, uses pop-punk as a spice, rather than the main ingredient in her album.
Willow also shares her contemporaries’ lack of awareness of what’s going on elsewhere in pop-punk, saying she wants to bring back the sounds of her youth without acknowledging that in many local stages they never left. In several interviews, she spoke about the importance of being a rare black woman in rock: “[Dobson, Pinkett Smith, and Alexis Brown of Straight Line Stitch] were the only three black rock singers I knew, so really I just wanted to make this album as an ode to them, ”she said. TURN. Willow’s foray into pop-punk undoubtedly raises the profile of black female singers, who have been shut out of a stage with a history of racism and sexism. But her enthusiasm also overlooks the work of many pop-punk female singers who are women of color, like those at Pinkshift and Meet Me @ the Altar, who carved their voices without the help of celebrity TikTok or famous parents. It’s simply easier for stars like Willow, Lil Huddy and The Kid Laroi to “revive” pop-punk if they ignore the grassroots bands that have kept it alive since the days of the LiveJournal.
And so lately I feel EVERYTHING ends up stuck between its intention and its effect. She uses the genre to overcome her struggles with mental illness, but her songs still ring with unwavering optimism, as if she knows her every move is still under a microscope. His ambitions are bold, but the album has a sense of polite suppression that keeps it from reaching true emotional heights. Willow shines in her darker, introspective songs, when melancholy tints her voice and the guitars are washed with melancholy. She might not be trapped in a literal box like she was at MOCA last year. But metaphorically, it’s still there; she still seems too preoccupied with self-presentation to dig into these anxious questions that she has scribbled on the walls of the museum.
Buy: Crude Trade
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