The British singer’s crisply rendered, competently hooky second album promises a more personal self-portrait, but she ends up disappearing into vague songwriting and anodyne dance-pop production.
Anne-Marie was getting bored of her own music. The British pop singer told the BBC that she dreaded playing her biggest song, “Rockabye,” on tour, having soured on the slinky, trop-house collaboration with Clean Bandit and Sean Paul. It was the track that anchored her first album, 2018’s Speak Your Mind, which was filled with bland, thrashing electro-pop numbers and known best for the Ed Sheeran co–written “2002,” which zigzags between interpolating early 2000s chart-toppers over earnest, chugging guitar. Right after she released the record, she started to work on the next one—an angrier album, she’s said, built on vitriol towards an ex. But then a father came up to her after a show and said that his daughter looked up to the singer. “I couldn’t deal with this little girl listening to all this angry music I’d been making," she told Music Week. “My role and who I want to be is someone who lifts people up and makes people feel good.” She scrapped the album and wrote an entirely new one titled Therapy, determined to uplift.
The resulting project is dimmed down and diluted. Anne-Marie builds her songs around vague suggestions of ideas—heartbreak and resilience, self-knowledge and easy love—crooned over slithering club beats and awash in schmaltzy synths. The album’s sleekest songs retread her previous hits. Little Mix joins, and often drowns out, Anne-Marie on “Kiss My (Uh Oh),” a fluffy, flimsy interpolation of the 2003 track “Never Leave You (Uh Ooh, Uh Ooh)” that doesn’t add much to the original. Sheeran shows up again as a co-writer, this time with Max Martin, for the well-intentioned but grating “Beautiful,” a cliche-clogged ode to rejecting beauty standards that ends with a chorus of chirping children’s voices. None of these songs stray beyond palatable. They are crisply produced and welded to competent hooks, and you can picture yourself blithing nodding along to most of them in a club or car or mall. But the only glimpses we get of Anne-Marie herself come in stock images: chewed nails and crappy credit, Sunday mornings in white t-shirts, singing along to Drake on summer nights. Even on a song called “Who I Am,” we learn patchy, surface details—“I like crying too much,” she hums, before launching into a diatribe about “fake friends.”
The album’s throng of features swarm to fill in this vacuum. Former One Direction member Niall Horan rasps about remembering a lover on “Our Song,” with the melodrama of a movie trailer. The British rapper MoStack overpowers the beats on “Way Too Long,” barreling over the melody with a flailing rap that rhymes Adele with the singer Mabel. A number of DJs show up, pumping skittering drum patterns and fluorescent drops into their respective tracks; one of the rare distinctive production choices comes from the UK dance outfit Rudimental, Anne-Marie’s frequent collaborator. They hurl snaps and cymbals and frenetic bleats of trumpet onto a track called “Unloveable,” dragging and distorting Anne-Marie’s vocals into a drone—“Could anybody love meeeee?” she pleads over the churning beats, wringing any last drop of vulnerability into the overpowering bass.
There’s a trace of what could have been a gripping album buried in all this glitz. The title track fumbles at a mature, moving message—that relationships can end without blame or fault, that therapy can be more critical than intimacy. Strip away the shellacked synths and whooshing bass, and “Better Not Together” becomes a tender meditation: “Neither of us wanna be alone,” she wails, “We’re losing grip but we can’t let go.” Lines like this dissolve into the soundscape, blending into the glut of electro-pop artists—Zara Larsson, Ava Max, Ellie Goulding, Bebe Rexha—that Anne-Marie imitates. Two albums in, it’s not clear what distinguishes Anne-Marie’s music. If even she’s bored of her own songs, you have to wonder, where does that leave us?
Buy: Rough Trade