During the short time since her last album, 2013's Stars Dance, and the release of Revival in 2015, Selena Gomez went through about a decade's worth of stuff. A label change (from Hollywood to Interscope), a very public breakup with longtime on-off boyfriend Justin Bieber, management issues, various rehab rumors, and even a few good things (a hit single, a charting collaboration with Zedd). Revival is something of a fresh start for Gomez, both musically and personally. Taking more control over the album, with more writing credits and production oversight, the sound veers away from the bubblegum nature of her early work or the genre-hopping aspects of other releases. Instead, the album sticks pretty close to a club bangers-and-ballads mix with a couple of R&B-inspired jams thrown in. Gomez sounds most at home on the uptempo dance tracks like "Kill 'Em with Kindness" or "Me & the Rhythm," where the smoothness of her voice fits in with the vacant abandon of the beat. She also does a fine job on the tracks that slip outside the bounds of the formula, namely on the snappy, sassy Charli XCX-written "Same Old Love" or the steamy, tricked-out Latin beats and weird synthesizers in "Body Heat." These tracks show at her best, dialing up her personality to match the wit and imagination shown in the arrangements. The songs that don't fare as well are those where Gomez sounds most personal. She aims for several kinds of maturity here, but in the process the music suffers. Whether on the confessional piano ballad "Camouflage," the bruising "Sober" or the cartoonishly sexy "Good for You," it feels forced and overdone. Despite a few too many songs like this, there is still much to like about the album. There are some songs as good as anything she's done and the production is professional all the way thanks to heavy hitters like Stargate, Max Martin, and Hit Boy. It makes for a solid pop album overall, but it's a little too formulaic and predictable to rate among her best work.
by Tim Sendra