Charlie Puth's sophomore album showcases a more mature R&B sound which sees Puth detail his romantic entanglements in LA to great effect.
The beginning of Charlie Puth’s musical career told an atypical and remarkable story. His debut single ‘See You Again’ went straight to No.1 and stayed there for 12 weeks whilst the accompanying music video simultaneously became the most viewed YouTube video of all time. Moreover, his debut album Nine Track Mind went platinum and catapulted him into the limelight. Yet, behind this sudden success, sat an unsatisfied artist who felt his early releases did not represent the musician he wanted to be. He would go as far as to say he was ‘embarrassed’ by Nine Track Mind and that his second album would be done his way. It’s fair to say Voicenotes goes some way to rectify that discontent.
Puth’s sophomore album displays a markedly different sound to his debut. Three years on, Puth has abandoned the peppy, innocent and downright irritating aspects of his previous album and replaced them with a far more grown up sound, fusing together ‘80s inspired beats with traditional R&B. The tone is set from the opening track. ‘The Way I Am’ combines a ferocious guitar riff with Puth’s velvet croons, segueing into a more conventional upbeat pop track which is irresistibly catchy. Next up is ‘Attention’, the lead single of the album, which perfectly utilises a funky bassline with Puth’s charming falsetto to tell the story of a teasing ex, who “just wants attention” and not Mr Puth’s heart. The next track is equally effective, as Puth warbles about messing around with the young women of LA, against the backdrop of a twinkling guitar riff, solid bassline and catchy beat.
Voicenotes enlists three featuring artists, to differing degrees of success. ‘Done For Me’ is a Wham! inspired jaunt which displays the sparkling chemistry between Puth and frequent collaborator, Oakland songstress Kehlani, who play out a lovers quarrel against a synth-driven background. ‘If You Leave Me Now’ is a soulful, nostalgic R&B track which sees Puth pit his haunting falsetto against the smooth harmonies of legendary R&B group Boyz II Men. The final feature is ‘Change’, a piano ballad which matches Puth up with 70-year-old James Taylor. This track is the lone failure of the 13 song album, striking a jarring tone in comparison with the remainder of the album and providing a disconcerting call-back to his schmaltzy debut album.
It is no exaggeration to state that there is no average filler on the album. Away from the six singles released prior to the album, two or three tracks stand out as real gems. ‘Patient’ provides Puth with the chance to show off every facet of his outstanding voice, switching from his trademark falsetto to swaggering cool to a breathlessly emotive finale. ‘BOY’ pools together a simplistic, electronic beat with a pulsing bassline and an outstandingly catchy chorus which meld perfectly around Puth’s vocal range. Finally, ‘Slow It Down’ borrows heavily from Hall & Oates, once again putting Puth’s voice at centre stage whilst a basic R&B beat unfolds around it.
Voicenotes is first and foremost, a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience. Puth evidently has a knack for making catchy hits and this album is stacked fit to burst with them. An extremely talented individual, Puth produced and wrote every song, lending Voicenotes an air of authenticity which was sorely missing from the vacuous and overtly commercial Nine Track Mind. The main criticism of Voicenotes will be that it is a bit lightweight, lacking in any real punch or substance, but for me that doesn’t really matter. With Charlie Puth you know what you are getting: catchy hits that will getting you dancing and attempting (horrendously) to hit the highest of notes. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Voicenotes is out now via Warner Music