Grey's album lacks the clear direction and stylistic cohesion we need to make sense of it.
Skylar Grey’s Don’t Look Down wants to grab attention any way it can
Don't Look Down
Has girl power taken a psychotic turn? Look at the Swedish gal duo Icona Pop’s I Love It, a joyously unhinged account of car-trashing in the wake of a break-up, and now Don’t Look Down, a record where the Wisconsin-born singer Skylar Grey sometimes masquerades as a deranged woman-done-wrong. It’s a good thing when pop’s stock response to heartbreak isn’t “it’s raining in my heart”, but when Grey reaches for a kitchen knife in Final Warning, or considers killing an ex who returns unexpectedly in Back from the Dead, it seems symptomatic of that post-Lady Gaga drive to grab attention any way you can.
A gifted pop composer who has co-written for Rihanna and will.i.am, Grey has waited a long time for this major label debut. Still only 27, she was singing in a folk duo with her mother by the age of six, and performing under her real name, Holly Brook, by the time she was 15. Don’t Look Down is executive-produced by her friend Eminem, but the English hip-hop producer Alex da Kid and the American--born pop producer J?R Rotem spar for control at the coalface.
Unsurprisingly, the album has something of an identity crisis. The piano ballad White Suburban – imagine a poppier take on Prince’s Sometimes It Snows in April – is one of the best songs here, but its earnest sentiments are hard to swallow after the knockabout comedy of C’mon Let Me Ride.
Quoting lines from Queen’s Bicycle Race and listing the late Freddy Mercury as a co-writer, the latter song has some typically nudge-nudge input from Eminem, but alas, the rapper’s schoolboy humour isn’t offset by the kind of musical brilliance that redeemed his similarly childish 2004 single Just Lose It.
The almost country-sounding Wear Me Out is also decent, but with Grey and company continuing to ring the changes, Don’t Look Down lacks the clear direction and stylistic cohesion we need to make sense of it.
Grey was promoting this record via Rolling Stone magazine back in 2011, and its tardy trudge into the light may tell its own story. The worst track here, Clear Blue Sky, is all mismatched sonics; the kind of song that often results when folks labour too long on something they no longer believe in.
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