Release Date: Jul 9, 2013
Record label: Interscope
Genre(s): Pop, Rap, Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Pop-Rap
Holly Brook Hafermann, a.k.a. Skylar Grey, is best known as the brains behind Eminem and Rihanna's “Love the Way You Lie,” and Marshall Mathers has been grooming the singer-songwriter for a splashy Interscope debut ever since. Don't Look Down is the sound of an artist negotiating with her own MC impulses, of a talented lyricist whose pop instincts tell her to abridge herself.
After nearly a decade of toiling away on the margins of the music industry, the former Holly Brook became Skylar Grey and scored a massive hit as a songwriter with Eminem and Rihanna's duet "Love the Way You Lie. " On that song, Grey's melodies functioned like Dido's did on "Stan," but after spending years and years as a sensitive singer/songwriter, Skylar Grey takes great pains to signify as tough on her 2013 debut, Don't Look Down. Heavy on stylish accouterments -- everything from echoed pianos and tightly rolling loops to cameos from Angel Haze and Big Sean -- Don't Look Down deliberately trades in bad-girl glamour, with Grey singing innuendoes and explicit profanities with ease, luxuriating in minor-key melodies and haunting, immaculately textured productions.
Holly Brook Hafermann is a lifer: She made folk LPs with Mom (see Generations), went solo in a Sarah McLachlan vein, and co-wrote Eminem and Rihanna's "Love the Way You Lie." Skylar Grey is her bad-girl alter ego, and you've gotta love a pop star who titles a song about unplanned pregnancy "Shit, Man!" But even a goofy Eminem cameo (the "Allen Iverson of safe sex") can't save "C'mon Let Me Ride" from sounding like an over-the-top hookup plea, and "Final Warning," a domestic-violence drama, feels vaguely like tabloid fodder. The stirring "White Suburban" suggests Grey might, in the end, make a more convincing good girl. .
After penning hits (Eminem and Rihanna's Love The Way You Lie) and singing hooks (Lupe Fiasco's Words I Never Said) for other stars and then attempting her own Lilith Fair-esque solo career as Holly Brook, singer/songwriter Skylar Grey returns with a new name and reworked bid for crossover success. If only the songs lived up to Grey's chart-topping work for others. The high-profile guest spots (Eminem executive-produces the album and turns up on inane single C'mon Let Me Ride) are predictable, and there's a surprisingly odd mismatch between Grey's Fiona Apple-lite balladry and her lyrical attempts at edginess.
If the name Skylar Grey rings a bell, it is probably either due to her featured singing and/or songwriting on tracks like Dr. Dre’s “I Need a Doctor,” Diddy-Dirty Money’s “Coming Home,” and “Love the Way You Lie” by Rihanna and Eminem. If the music gods smile favorably upon her, Grey will soon be known as a solo artist in her own right, thanks to the gifts for melody and turning a phrase displayed on this captivating debut under her current nom de pop.
Revenge is the best revenge in Skylar Grey’s songs. Ms. Grey can be long-suffering, and she might even savor some of the torment, the better to examine it and house it in a dignified melody. She also writes about offering support, pulling herself together and moving on after a breakup. But when ….