Disney starlet struggles to find sound

Features Editor Charlotte Kyle writes the CD reviews.

How to make a Demi Lovato album: Add one part mediocre pop song, one part heart-wrenching ballad and two parts killer vocal range. Stir, then shake it up, then stir again before serving with popcorn and sugar cookies.

Essentially the result is a poppy, sugary concoction good for most occasions. The recipe seems to have changed, however, as if someone got the proportions wrong.

Lovato has had a rough year, and the hype surrounding her third album, “Unbroken,” probably overpowered the result. Don’t mistake that for a diss – “Unbroken” has many good qualities, but it lacks focus and, at times, personality.

What it boils down to is this: Lovato very publically had a tough time mentally and physically, and while she made a statement with her empowering first single, some of the tracks on “Unbroken” feel insincere.

The first four tracks of the album have such a generic, run-of-the-mill sound they could have been sung by any young pop star.

In fact, look up “Victorious” star Ariana Grande’s version of “You’re My Only Shorty” featuring Iyaz. Vocally the two rival network stars are level with each other but the track feels more believable coming from Grande. Lovato’s version feels stiff, almost forced.

Those first four tracks feel like gimmicks, proof that Lovato can transform herself to pop-rock singer to R&B superstar. In addition to “Shorty” Lovato performs with Missy Elliot and Timbaland on “All Night Long,” Dev on “Who’s That Boy” and Jason Derulo on “Together.”

The latter has some of the most ridiculous lyrics, almost as if Lovato and Derulo were trying to create a “We Are The World” situation by projecting their dreams for a perfect world and a campfire of sing-along songs.

“Remember loving neighbors without expecting favors,” Lovato requests. Her voice sounds amazing, but the song is one cheesy music video away from being the next Disney Friends for Change track.

Even if the songs are gimmicky and forced, they’re still fairly catchy. If you miss teen sensation JoJo then you’ll probably love these songs and that’s OK. I still believe they pale in comparison to some of the more honest songs on the album.

The mellow “Lightweight” is similar to Lovato’s previous song, “Catch Me.” It’s a simple, heartfelt track that allows the singer to showcase her voice.

“I’m a lightweight / better be careful what you say / with every word I’m blown away / you’re in control of my heart,” she belts.

It’s a beautiful, mature track that isn’t trying too hard to be either of those things.

The title track has an electronic feel as Lovato promises to “love you like (she’s) never been broken.” It’s a surprisingly fun track, as I initially expected “Unbroken” to be another “Skyscraper,” i.e. a triumphant anthem to her overcoming the obstacles of her past.

It’s a good example of Lovato’s ability to do pop music without doing ballads: even if ballads are preferred, she makes an upbeat song work in her favor. It’s a radio-friendly song and for Lovato that’s a good thing.

Other standout tracks include the catchy “In Real Life” and bluesy “My Love is Like a Star.” Lovato’s raspy, soulful voice works perfectly on the latter.

“For the Love of a Daughter” is, by far, the most anticipated track on the album. The song, which was initially recorded for her past album, is from the point of a view of a younger Lovato as she begs her father to stop drinking. Lovato and Hollywood Records felt the song was too mature for her younger listeners.

The song is chill-inducing as Lovato pours her heart into the lyrics. The song doesn’t use cheap metaphors or try to get too deep: she puts it all out there for the world to see.

“I can be manipulated only so many times before even ‘I love you’ starts to sound like a lie,” she sings.

This track alone makes the album worth checking out.

“Unbroken” features a more mature, powerful Lovato. If she can channel that energy into her next album and focus on one sound she could truly prove herself as an artist. She just needs to decide what it is she wants to be. She’s only 19 ­– she’s still trying to figure it out.

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