Charlie Puth’s overnight success on “See You Again” (a tribute track for the late Paul Walker), resulted in him releasing what felt like a rushed, unoriginal debut album in 2016, earning one of the lowest scores ever on Metacritic and leaving many wondering if the pretty-faced, perfect-pitched singer is nothing more than a typical YouTube star. Now, Puth is back with his sophomore album, “Voicenotes,” to prove to music listeners that he is more than capable of delivering an authentic musical masterpiece.
The release date of the album was pushed back twice because Puth wrote and produced “Voicenotes” himself and he felt that the album was “not perfect yet.” The final product channels Puth’s most personal struggles with fame and loneliness, and lays out the toxic, unconventional relationships he’s found himself in the midst of, as opposed to the “life is great and love is always perfect” attitude he previously had. The album is a raw product of who Puth really is, versus the ‘casanova of love songs’ persona everyone expected him to have.
The first song on the album, “The Way I Am,” hones in on Puth’s struggle with fame, stating, “Everybody wants to be famous / I’m just trying to find a place to hide.” Puth admits that he’s insecure, but from this point on he is no longer going to fixate on other people’s perception of him. The best part of the song is the little pause in the music in the second verse, where Puth blurts out, “All I want to do is just hold somebody / But no one ever wants to know somebody.” Though the topic is more serious than most of the other songs, the heavy bass line and stop-and-start guitar prevent the song from sounding like a sympathy track for someone who can’t handle stardom.
“Attention” was the first song to be released from the album, back in 2017. It was Puth’s comeback track after his subpar debut album. The track shows a dark side of Puth, rather than parading around a picture-perfect relationship. It showcases his frustration with a girl who wants nothing but attention from him. The slow plucking of guitar strings in the verses contrasts the addictive bass line in the chorus.
If only one thing sticks out to you in the 44 minutes of this album, it will probably be the way Puth sings “I miss my baby” in the chorus of track 3, “LA Girls.” The tremble in his voice enables listeners to almost physically feel the pain he is going through as he realizes what a fool he was to let go of a good thing while he had it.
“How Long” was the second single to be released from the album. The pauses in between each word during the chorus as Puth sings “How – long – has – this – been – going – on?” followed by a single kick on a kick drum preceding each syllable is pure genius! The song has snaps and claps and attitude, what more could you really want? (Apparently nothing more because the song has an astounding 295,000,000 streams on Spotify.)
Puth’s current single, “Done For Me” featuring Kehlani, is a back-and-forth confrontation between a couple who reevaluates their relationship as it unfolds in the gaps of a heavy-synth tune. The lyrics mention things the pair has done for each other like Kehlani deleting people from her life because they made Charlie uncomfortable, while Charlie says he’d “Lie for you baby / Die for you baby / Cry for you baby.” Their tone makes the storyline believable and relatable for 21st century “unfriending friends my boyfriend doesn’t like” type of relationships.
Every album has that one really sad love song, where the singer asks for a second chance to mend a relationship, begging the other person for more time to make everything perfect. That song happens to be track 6 on Puth’s album, titled “Patient.”
Songs like these usually get tossed in the list of “songs to listen to when my relationship is falling apart and all I want to do is sit in the dark and cry.” Puth’s version however, is a sparkling gem in that pile of lackluster musical heartache. The bridge of the song is a magical blend of R&B, funk and soul that highlights Puth’s deep understanding of sound.
“If You Leave Me Now” features Boyz II Men, so everyone born before the 2000s went into this album knowing that this song was going to be a memorable one. I’ve listened to the track well over two dozen times and it blows my mind how cohesively these boys were able to create harmonies and melodies, without the use of a single instrument. The song is done completely acapella and is a refreshing change in what is otherwise a synth-heavy album. Puth’s voice blends effortlessly with the famous boy band, making it feel like he’s been part of the group all along.
Boy oh boy, I can’t get enough of track 7, titled “BOY!”. Here, Puth expresses his frustration with not being taken seriously by his older significant other because she thinks that he’s too young and therefore only considers him someone to just mess around with. The 26-year-old is seemingly offended as he sings, “You won’t wake up beside me / Cause I was born in the 90s.”
Puth’s vocal ability is extremely well showcased on this track. The way he fluctuates so smoothly between notes as he sings “b-oo-oo-oooo-ooo-y” at the end of the chorus sounds almost inorganic, as if it was a noise produced from a synthesizer.
“Slow It Down” dissects Puth’s struggle trying not to fall for a girl, who oddly enough, seems to be infatuated with his emotional unavailability. It’s as if Puth has a tiny angel Charlie on one shoulder telling him that he shouldn’t give into this girl if he knows he can’t be available, while a tiny devil Charlie is on his other shoulder telling him that this girl wants him and he should therefore go for it. The bridge of the song is reminiscent of a Daft Punk song, with Puth’s vocals stylistically autotuned as he sings “You’ve got to slow it / Slow it down, baby.”
Puth debuted track 9, “Change” featuring James Taylor, at March for Our Lives in Los Angeles earlier this year, stating that it felt like it was “the right song to perform.” The song beautifully encompasses the pain felt by millions of Americans across the country, as well as exhibits the strong desire for change, asking “Why can’t we just get along? / If loving one another’s wrong / Then how are we supposed to get close to each other? / We gotta make that change.”
The video of the performance shows Puth on stage playing the piano at the March, then cuts to clips of the crowd marching and listening to the song in tears. “Change” is an emotional tribute to the people who continue to persist to fight for a difference, and a plea for those who do not understand the severity of stricter gun laws in the U.S.
“Somebody Told Me” tells the the story of how Puth came to realize that he’s not the only his girlfriend has been dating. The parallels between the vocals and music alone are enough to make the track praiseworthy — the verses are slow to match Puth’s emotions as the rumors of his relationship unravel, while the chorus picks up speed to portray Puth’s disappointment in both the girl and himself for not noticing that she was only “half in love.”
Track 12, “Empty Cups,” is the song I’ve been contemplating changing my ringtone to… yes, it’s THAT GOOD. The pounding of the drums and playful beats as Puth echoes “Hands on your body / Like there’s no one at the party / Just me and you.”
The track paints the picture of the ultimate teen party — chaos and euphoria in the air, with everyone dancing way too close to each other as they empty their red Solo cups, leaving behind the potential for new relationships and the impulsive decision to make a move you otherwise wouldn’t have the courage to.
Closing off the album is “Through It All,” which, unfortunately, is a letdown compared to the rest of the bunch. The song sounds like something you’d hear in that scene of a musical where the main character feels defeated and is coming to terms with his helplessness as he walks in the rain through a dark street with a single street light at the end of it.
The track is the least exciting musically- no special synths, no clever lyrics. It was initially the first song that was supposed to be on the album, until Puth [thankfully] scrapped the idea and went with a different, more R&B infused pop vibe, which is why it lacks the creativity of the other songs.
More often than not, we refer back to an album for a song or two that channel similar feelings. We then add those songs to a playlist consisting other songs that ignite similar emotions. It’s rare to listen to an entire album all the way through because the songs tend to cover a bunch of loosely-related topics. “Voicenotes,” however, is cohesive and flows all the way through. For this reason, I give the album an A-.
Puth’s ability to channel his raw emotions, as well as all facets of a relationship — the good, the bad, the ugly, the regrettable — to create songs with relatable storylines rather than the lovey dovey mainstream pop songs in his previous album, makes his sophomore album not only his best work yet, but also a strong contender for the best pop album of the year. Puth is scheduled to perform the new songs on the North American run of the 2018 Honda Civic Voicenotes Tour this summer with special guest Hailee Steinfeld.
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