The big news for Selena Gomez before the release of her sixth album, Rare, is that she finally had a number one single after years of getting close. The introspective and emotionally raw ballad "Lose You to Love Me" surrounded Gomez's aching vocals with sparse piano, swirling strings, and lush background vocals, and connected instantly with her fans and anyone who ever had to ditch someone in order to save themselves. That song, and the record it appears on, mark something of a turning point in her career. Where in the past she focused mostly on breezy sentiments, playful frothy pop, and more recently sexy come-ons, now she's digging deeper and mining her own life and loves for subject matter in more obvious and revealing ways. It may not be totally confessional -- and each song is helped to the finish line by teams of professional songwriters -- but within the realm of mainstream modern pop, Rare is surprisingly honest lyrically and Gomez sounds more open and invested in the songs than ever before. Lyrically they range from stripped bare ("Lose You," "Vulnerable") to empowered (the title track, "Look at Her Now") with stops along the way at freedom (the sparkly, French disco-inspired "Dance Again"), realization ("Kinda Crazy"), and slyly moving on ("Fun"). The team pair the words with hooky choruses that are easy to imagine being sung along with really loud and some sure-handed production that's never boring and strays happily into odd territory now and again -- the junky drum sound on "Rare," "Look at Her Now"'s chopped-up vocals, the computer-tweaked vocals of "People You Know," and the wobbly synths and arrangements of "A Sweeter Place" crafted by Kid Cudi. Gomez's albums work best when they don't chase trends, or do obvious things, and there is precious little of that here; only the very "Havana"-esque "Ring" falls victim to that particular problem. It's highly unlikely that Gomez will ever venture to the cutting edge of pop, but Rare proves that when she has strong songs and the producers get a little weird, she's just enough outside the mainstream to sound fresh. Add in some deeply felt and real emotion like she does here, and it verges on being something special, maybe her best record yet. If it isn't that, it's at least her most interesting one yet, and that's something fans of the homogenized pop scene of the era should celebrate.
by Tim Sendra
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