Album Review: The Pains of Growing by Alessia Cara
Very Good, Based on 8 Critics
New Musical Express (NME) - 80 Based on rating 4/5
Pop's thoughtful sort-of outsider returns with a winningly authentic second album that proves she's increasingly unforgettable “I’ve always been a go-getter, there’s truth in every word I write,” sings Alessia Cara on her second album’s opening song (and almost title track), ‘Growing Pains’. It’s a couplet that neatly sums up the 22-year-old’s journey from posting cover versions recorded in her suburban Toronto bedroom on YouTube to placing four songs in the US Top 10 and winning Best New Artist at The Grammys. Cara broke through with 2015’s ‘Here’, a super-relatable song about feeling out of place at a teenage party, and ‘The Pains Of Growing’ reaffirms her status as pop’s gawky, thoughtful, sort-of-outsider.
It's been three years since her debut, but Brampton, ON's Alessia Cara is back with her sophmore album, The Pains of Growing, and it was well worth the wait. Cara's career thus far has been a real-life bildungsroman, unfolding in real-time right in front of us.
While 2015's Know it All acted as a critique of adolescence, The Pains of Growing explores exactly what's in it's title: an examination of the shift between teenagehood and becoming an adult. While single "Growing Pains" adresses this directly, other tracks like "Trust My Lonely ….
Now 22, Cara's self-written sophomore effort finds her grappling with adult life from the perspective of someone in the midst of it. Thematically, The Pains of Growing depicts a stark departure from the confidence that ran through most of Know-It-All. It's a shift Cara herself addresses on powerful first track "Growing Pains": "and I've always been a go-getter / there's truth in every word I write / but still the growing pains, growing pains / they're keeping me up at night".
The Pains of Growing was released three and a half years after Alessia Cara's first single began a liftoff that led to platinum certifications, multiple Juno awards, and a Grammy. As accolades piled up, Cara experienced a complete between-albums profile maximization cycle, highlighted by featured appearances on songs by Zedd and Logic and a well-synchronized Disney connection with the Lin-Manuel Miranda-written theme for Moana. Cara's second album catches her at a point where she's simultaneously an emergent singer/songwriter and a bankable collaborative pop star.
Alessia Cara was nearly drowned by a record contract. She would have had good company down there: The music industry is a watery grave for people in her position--one hot song, a firestorm of interest, and zero leverage. After her cool-eyed hit "Here," she disappeared almost entirely into Def Jam, like a dollar into a wind tunnel. She put out EPs with prefab songs that sounded intended for Bebe Rexha or Taylor Swift or anyone who agreed to record them.
The Lowdown: At 19, Alessia Cara told us who she was by telling us where to find her. "I'll be over here/ Somewhere in the corner under clouds of marijuana," she sighs on 2015's "Here", a party song for the kind of party you wanted to leave an hour ago. The Canadian singer-songwriter carved out a niche as the lonely introvert of bubblegum pop. Her voice has an angelic rasp, like a choir girl who smokes.
I t's taken eight years for Alessia Cara to follow fellow Canadian Justin Bieber's path from teenage YouTube posts to the Grammys. This year's best new artist at the ceremony, Cara first took wing with her staggeringly self-assured 2015 debut single, Here, a tale of creeping loneliness at a party and the attendant privations and disappointments of being a young woman. It sounded like tectonic plates shifting, opening up a crack between generations.
Being a wallflower has its perks for Alessia Cara, who over the past three years channeled feeling like an outsider — be it in social settings (breakthrough single "Here") or her own skin ("Scars to Your Beautiful") — into chart success and Grammy gold. To the 22-year-old singer's adoring fanbase (known as Alessians), she's as much role model as pop star, dispensing self-love anthems all the more powerful for how often they foreground her personal struggles. On sensitive sophomore record "The Pains of Growing," Cara acknowledges the pressures of that responsibility by crafting a record mostly about learning to take her own advice.