Charlie Puth went from YouTube likes to RIAA certifications with such swiftness that he caught a serious case of stardom bends. He had most of the symptoms, including a hastened, compromised debut album, resultant awkward performances, and a bad reaction to the public eye. While Voicenotes can be loosely classified as a fame-response album -- a category distinguished by works that are woeful in character and quality -- it counteracts Puth's artistic frustrations and in every aspect surpasses Nine Track Mind. Rarely is it overblown and stagey, with Puth generally sounding more at ease, and absolutely invested in the songs. The negative impact celebrity has had on him is addressed directly only in the breezy opener "The Way I Am," where he concedes that he's "just tryin' to find a place to hide," and the twentysomething alludes to it in petulant form only in the closing ("I've been") "Through It All." The set's crux is a series of failed relationships that leap from one disparate experience to another. Puth admits to faults in a couple songs, pinning part of the blame on alcohol and youth, elsewhere feeling belittled by an older woman -- who underestimates his maturity and uses him -- only to immediately afterward bemoan a younger partner's attachment. Stylistically, much of the set is in a continuum of R&B-inspired pop that is earnest and groove-oriented in nature, rooted in early-'80s acts like Hall & Oates and exemplified decades later by Daft Punk's "Something About Us." "Slow It Down" goes as far as to sample the former and resembles a collaboration with the latter as much as the Weeknd's "I Feel It Coming." The best of the material shaped this way is "Done for Me," a sublime breakup prelude on which Puth duets with Kehlani, his most astute choice for collaborator. The second is "Attention," which appeared a year before Voicenotes was released, but is perfectly representative for its borderline bratty vocal and a sparkling production with a loping bassline that gives as much as the hooks. Success may have almost spoiled Puth, but it fueled his upward creative swing.
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman