Albums: New music from Ariana Grande, Sam Smith, Shirley Bassey and Aled Jones
Ariana Grande – Positions
PERHAPS it was to be expected that Ariana Grande's next record would eschew real life drama in favour of fantasy and fun. Positions is certainly both.
Love and lust are front and centre on these 14 snappy tracks, which focus almost entirely on her romantic life with boyfriend Dalton Gomez, a high-end Los Angeles real estate agent.
In contrast to the prolonged promotional campaigns which have launched her previous albums, Positions came almost without warning. It was announced just 16 days ahead of release. But the songs themselves are less surprising.
Grande has found a groove in vibesy R&B and impressive vocal runs and for most part sticks to the formula. Rapper Doja Cat's raspy appearance on Motive highlights the wonderful depth of Grande's voice, while 34+35 is likely to shock parents of her younger fans when they get the joke.
Positions may not match up to the heights of her recent work but that's fine – perhaps this is the album she needed to make.
Sam Smith – Love Goes
LOVE Goes is a sort of mission statement from Sam Smith (28). Inially titled To Die For and due for release in June, the record was delayed and re-titled in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
This cautious approach is reflected in the music.
Smith, who is now gender non-binary and has adopted the pronouns they/them, does push beyond the narrow parameters of their previous two records, but there's little resembling a left-turn here.
Their heartbreak from the end of their relationship with 13 Reasons Why actor Brandon Flynn permeates the music, but is contrasted with a sense of personal freedom.
Among forgettable tracks like Kids Again and the cookie cutter Breaking Hearts, Smith still manages to land a few punches. Dance ('Til You Love Someone Else) promises fire, with a bubbling synth line and satisfyingly deep kick drum. It is perhaps the only song that effectively combines Smith's gloom with euphoria.
It is only a shame they have been unable to replicate that quality across a whole album.
Shirley Bassey – I Owe It All To You
DAME Shirley Bassey (83) showcases her enduring talent and powerful singing voice on an album which has been billed as her "grand finale" that is dedicated to her fans. "This audience of mine has been my bread and wine," she sings in the album's title track.
Dame Shirley, who prompted amusement by wearing a matching mask and sequined gold gown while promoting her latest release, mixes new material with covers on the album. However her re-recordings have varying levels of success.
Look But Don't Touch lacks the class of the rest of the album and sounds borderline cheesy, while I Don't Know What Love Is feels slightly predictable and dull. However, I Was Here has an ethereal quality and Who Wants To Live Forever is a bold reimagining of the original by Queen.
While I Owe It All To You is certainly not Dame Shirley's best work, her fine singing on the album is sure to delight her fans.
Aled Jones – Blessings
IT SOUNDS cliched and corny but Aled Jones' latest album title really is what it says: a blessing. If you're in need of some subtle, soothing listening then Blessings, his 40th album, delivers.
Featuring contributions from Dame Judi Dench, Susan Boyle, Sami Yusuf, Brian Blessed and more, it really is a welcome slice of calm amid the uncertainty of the last few months.
The album covers a number of faiths and beliefs – Quaker, Christian, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhism – all explored and represented through music. The album will be accompanied by a book of blessings, adding another novel element.
His version of Silent Night, featuring Blessed's voice, is the perfect segue into the festive season.