Selena Gomez's debut album wasn’t a breakout success, but it proved to be a long-running one. Indeed, when the follow-up, A Year Without Rain, was released a year later, Kiss & Tell was still riding high at number 58 on the Billboard Top 200. That album’s mix of frothy teen pop with super-catchy choruses, excellent production, and Selena’s sweet yet powerful vocals proved popular with both critics and the public. A Year Without Rain is similar in many ways but also very different in some important ways. Where Kiss was lighthearted and fun, Year is less fun and more serious both lyrically and musically. It feels like someone in her camp decided that it was time to position Gomez as more grown up, time to leave behind the sunny, good-time appeal and get a little more “real.” There are no peppy new wave or spunky emo-pop influences, only a couple songs that aren’t about serious longing and heartbreak, and an overall feel of melancholy heaviness. Even the uptempo, relatively happy songs like "Off the Chain" have a minor-key, slightly gloomy feel. Partly this is down to arrangements that favor the kind of thick synthesizers that any self-respecting pop song had to have in 2010. Where Kiss sported a slightly retro feel and plenty of guitars in the mix, Year is totally of the moment, right down to the Auto-Tune and the guest raps. The shift in sound may come as a disappointment to anyone who loved Kiss, but this is still a very good pop record. Once you realize it’s going to be a different kind of listen and you get used to the mood, it’s easy to fall back in love thanks to Gomez’s consistently strong vocals. She has plenty of power in her pipes, but never oversings or gets too heavy. There’s nothing she can do with the embarrassingly corny Katy Perry-penned song "Rock God," but it’s fun to hear her soar sadly through the chorus of the title track or bounce giddily through the speedy "Summer’s Not Hot." She handles ballads perfectly too, giving "Ghost of You" lots of emotion but stepping back right at the edge of overdoing it. You get the feeling that she could sing just about anything convincingly, that she could be built for the long haul and not just a quick cash-in. That’s why the decision to make a record that sounds like so many other 2010 releases is a bad one. There would have been no shame in trying to recapture the more diverse and more fun approach of Kiss & Tell -- it is a formula that is a proven winner, after all. If A Year Without Rain was Selena's first album, it may not have reached that same level of success. Then again, an album full of songs as catchy and as well sung as "Round & Round," "A Year Without Rain," and "Off the Chain" just might have done the trick.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra