Ariana Grande’s latest album and her fourth studio effort Sweetener is an interesting, experimental album fusing the young singer’s usual pop sound with confident R&B vibes to mixed results. While the album does well to showcase the vocal range and catchy lyrics that’s always been the staple for Ariana, at times the various collaborations and new style feel in danger of offsetting the solo efforts which are largely the stand outs here.
The album opens with a beautiful 30 second acapella – Raindrop. This beautiful sample then jumps straight into one of several collaborations on the album, Blazed, featuring Pharrell Williams. This confidently written song about finding and falling in love works well as the two artists bounce off each other’s momentum for the duration of the song before smoothly transitioning to The Light Is Coming featuring Nicki Minaj. It’s here the album tries to fuse the new sound of R&B with pop to mixed results. Personally, this feels like the weakest song on the album before the sound shifts to a more familiar vocal-heavy ride through Grade’s solo efforts including the chart smash hit No Tears Left To Cry. Despite its unbearably overplayed presence on radio stations up and down the country, it remains one of the best songs on the album. The album ends on a beautiful tribute – get well soon.
Throughout Sweetener’s run time there’s an overwhelming feeling of a transition occurring in an artist torn between a new, contemporary style of R&B while sticking to the tried and tested formula of pop that’s worked so well for her in the past. This blend of audibly pleasing, catchy pop beats with a moodier, more modern style of R&B makes this an album of two, warring sides.
Sweetener is an interesting one to review really because in many ways the album doesn’t really excel as an R&B soundtrack and fails to really push the boundaries of pure pop to be considered one of the artist’s best efforts. Having said that, Sweetener is still an impressive effort and what we’re left with is an album that falls somewhere between the two genres, with enough vocal work and experimentation to make it an album worth checking out if you’re a fan of Grande’s previous work. There’s a more mature, assured tone to this album which is really brought out through tracks like No Tears Left To Cry, God Is A Woman and Blazed. Sweetener certainly becomes sweeter to the palette the more you listen but with such an experimental album, this feels more transitional than great compared to what Ariana Grande has achieved with her previous albums.