Selena Gomez recently revealed that she had been diagnosed with lupus and had undergone chemotherapy treatment for the disease. Cynically, its easy to correlate the revelation of this news with the release of her sophomore solo album, Revival–but realistically, it showed a little bit of vulnerability in Gomez that is consistent throughout the album.
The album begins with a little spoken word intro: “I dive into the future/But I’m blinded by the sun/I’m reborn in every moment/So who knows what I’ll become” before the titular track gets into full gear. The sultry alt-R&B track sounds befitting of Usher or Miguel more than the bubblegum pop many might be used to from Gomez. But “Revival” sets the mood for the entire album. “Sober” sees Gomez reunite with Stargate who co-wrote and produced Gomez’ 2013 “Come & Get It.” This time the Norwegian duo help Gomez achieve an aching pop ballad similar in tempo and style to Robyn‘s “Dancing On My Own.” As she sings the chorus of “you don’t know how to love me when you’re sober,” it is emotive but still believable.
Where the record really fails is with the singles. “Same Old Love” has been called a break-up anthem–which it is–but it also sounds like Gomez covering Charli XCX–which she is essentially. Although the track sounds like something XCX should have kept for herself to perform, Gomez manages to keep up with the punchiness of “Same Old Love.” The album’s other single, “Good For You” has the same sultry quality as much of Rivival but A$AP Rocky‘s cameo really sticks out like a sore thumb and doesn’t seem necessary.
Besides the singles, the album fades a bit at the end. Surely album closer, “Rise” is supposed to be an uplifting finish with its dub drums and its gospel choir backing vocals but it falls a bit flat. Luckily the strong first half of the album compensates for the missteps making Revival Gomez’ strongest outing to date.