It feels like yesterday when Lizzo dropped her debut project Cuz I Love You, which is also one of my favorite albums to date. I think it’s because, despite not putting out any new music, she’s been super active on social media during this time, sharing her day-to-day life as well as her participation in red carpets. It was almost as if she was not allowing us to forget her.
It wasn’t until she dropped her single “Rumors” featuring Cardi B last summer that her fans understood that something was going to happen very soon. And here we are, almost a year later, she released her second album, Special, on July 15th.
From listening to the leading single “About Damn Time” (which is what her fans–me included–uttered when we first listened to it), it was clear that she was now going for an 80s kind of sound. I binge-listened to the song until the second single, “Grrrls,” came out (though I was not too enthusiastic about that one). Now that the full record is released, we can confidently say that she is indeed going for that kind of sound.
First of all, love the reference to Joan of Arc on the cover image (Janelle Monáe did something similar with her 2018 concept album Dirty Computer).
The opening track, “The Sign,” does indeed feel like the appetizer that precedes the main course: she’s updating us on what she’s been doing in the past few years, which once again reinforces this connection between her and her fans.
“2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)” is a high-energy dancefloor track that I would see as the soundtrack of a Stranger Things episode; “Break Up Twice” is a slower ballad that serves as a warning sign for the singer’s lover; the sensuality of “Naked” reminds me of “Jerome” and “Lingerie” from the past record and it exhumes confidence; “Birthday Girl” is a fun, feel-good track that invites everyone to love themselves as if it were their birthday every day.
These are definitely my favorite tracks on the album. However, its flaws are as important as its strengths. Other songs do feel like what I would call “elevator songs:” tracks that don’t really leave anything in me once they’re over. I’m talking about “I Love You Bitch,” “Special,” “Everybody’s Gay,” and “If You Love Me,” specifically. If we exclude these songs, there’s really not much left that could be called an album considering how short it is.
Vocally, it’s a no-brainer: Lizzo is one of the most talented vocalists of our time. Her timber, expression and extension are signature features of her voice which make her so freaking recognizable. From that point of view, she’s still an undefeated queen.
Though the record is overall pretty catchy and coherent in terms of its themes (queerness, confidence, breakup and heartbreak), it feels like a side project compared to the masterpiece that is Cuz I Love You. (I know it’s not always helpful to compare an artist’s latest album to their previous efforts, but sometimes I can’t really help it.)
Let me put it differently. My problem with the album is not that it’s not “as good as” her debut (whatever that means) but it’s the fact that it doesn’t seem to represent a meaningful progress in any direction whatsoever.
In conclusion, is Special as worthwhile as Cuz I Love You? No. Is it still enjoyable and worth listening to? Hell yeah.
Cover image credits: Lizzo: Special review – pop gold forged by a supreme force of charisma / The Guardian
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