Charlie Puth’s road to mainstream superstardom officially began with his smash hit featuring Wiz Khalifa, “See You Again” (which has over three billion views on Youtube). The mammoth single highlighted on the seventh Fast & Furious movie soundtrack back in 2015 garnered mega-hype for the Jersey singer/songwriter.
After signing to Atlantic Records and gaining momentum from the 2015 Furious song, Puth decided to release his debut album (or was it Atlantic), Nine Track Mind to kick off 2016. Atlantic is notorious for rushing artists’ projects after one of their huge hits surfaces. It was no surprise the company forced Puth to deliver the record quickly, especially after “See You Again” made waves throughout the music industry during the previous summer.
The result was a complete and utter disaster, and it may not have been Puth’s fault. He had no time to show off his songwriting abilities, and released a huge dud because of it.
This time around, the 26 year-old enjoyed two years of freedom to record his sophomore effort, Voicenotes. Without time restrictions and the burden of record sales hovering over Puth (at least for the moment), the Jersey native finally shows flashes of savviness.
Surprisingly, the keyboard-driven ballads came off better than expected, usually by virtue of Puth’s memorable vocal performances. His sticky hooks and clear explanations of thematic elements makes up for his limitations in the lyrical department.
While there’s nothing groundbreaking instrumentally about Voicenotes, Puth still capitalizes on expanding his typical skeletal boundaries. The very bass-heavy “Attention” is a funk record waiting to become a classic. Even with the trite lyrics (“you just want attention/you don’t want my heart/maybe you just hate the thought of me with someone new”), Puth manages to utilize his vocal flexibility to tell a story about a girl’s longing for consideration.
In an interview on the Elvis Duran Show, Puth tells a story about his inspiration for the song. Apparently, he thinks there’s never been a track made for women who want attention. Obviously, he doesn’t listen to The Weeknd. For someone who prides himself on knowing music, his commentary on the hit single was pretty comical.
Regardless, it’s admirable to see a mainstream pop artist attempt to construct an ongoing motif throughout an entire album. However, Puth constitutes a dilemma involving love without fully exploring every facet presented on each tune.
Sure, Puth’s seductive Calvin Harris-style production on “How Long” turns out quite irresistible, but the cliched songwriting is just too simplistic to get behind (“How long has it been going on?/You’ve been creeping’ ’round on me/while you’re calling me ‘baby'”). Puth’s crooning on the post-chorus adds a bit of charm to an otherwise passable single.
As expected, the 26 year-old is at his best when the label is not breathing down the man’s back. Puth sounds borderline douchy when describing his motivations for the first few tracks on the album. His problems with girls seem very minuscule and not worth mentioning.
It’s when he’s surrounded by legends that Puth finally abandons his childish ways for an attempt at maturation. His almost-accapella performance with Boyz II Men on “If You Leave Me Now” promotes Puth’s singing to the forefront of the mixing.
The same goes for the acoustic-driven “Change” with five-time Grammy winner James Taylor. The optimistic vibe presented through laid back piano chords and finger-snapping melodies makes the positive message of “changing the world” seem plausible.
The luxurious Gospel leads on “Through It All” administer a feeling of self-appreciation for not only Puth, but also his loyal fanbase who’s been with him since the beginning. The track is a lot less funk and more piano-induced, but according to multiple sources, Puth apparently recorded the track while touring for his first project. Nonetheless, it was an exceptional ending to a mix-bag of an album.
Puth definitely took a step forward artistically. There’s sprinkles of ambition and ingenuity all throughout Voicenotes. However, the songwriter’s lyrical limitations were exposed multiple times on creative choices that were obviously encouraged by the label. Despite his booming voice, instances like these were too apparent to ignore.
Maybe there will be a time in the near future where Puth finally boasts his own unique sound without having money-hungry business men controlling his creativity. Maybe, the Jersey native will loose enough relevancy where he’s finally forced to make a breakthrough album as a result. He’s got potential as of right now. Hopefully, it doesn’t go to waste.