By Madyson McGill
This review contains everything from angst and desire to sex appeal. No, it is not about the Fifty Shades Darker movie. I’m going to stay away from that Twilight fan fiction turned successful movie franchise. However, while I will not in any way praise the movie, I will praise the soundtrack. Let’s be honest: the Fifty Shades soundtracks are the closest many people will get to this franchise. This is because the soundtracks, unlike the movies, are actually good, with the exception being the now overplayed track “I Don’t Want to Live Forever” by Zayn and Taylor Swift. To be honest, I was never really a fan of this track.
However, I will always be up for some Halsey. I was so ready to hear new music from her, outside of her feature on “Closer” by the Chainsmokers. “Not Afraid Anymore” is a solid A+ track. The track contains a type of fearlessness to it; it builds and settles in a symphony-like harmony at the end. My only true complaint is the autotune on Halsey’s voice. I think it would’ve been much more beneficial to be able to hear the rawness of her voice.
Another track I’m particularly fond of is “Pray” by JRY and Rooty. It has a mellow harmony, and their voices complement each other well on the track. It also has a smooth pick up to the chorus. They articulate the words that need emphasis, like “forget,” contrasting that with a smoothness that fits the lyrics like “pray for peace.” This is what I think this track does well: it has a nice balance between the different verses and chorus.
I will say though, I would’ve liked more variety in the songs featured at the beginning of the album. I feel like the first film’s album was much better in this regard. On this one, they all feel as if as they are part of the same pop genre. This doesn’t change when they reach the fourth song, “Lies In The Dark” by Tove Lo, who I actually thought was Selena Gomez until I looked at the actual track list.
They do change it up though with a more jazz-focused song next. “No Running From Me” by Toulouse adds a new feeling to the album; it is more light and upbeat. The horns and jazz feel almost make you want to get up and dance, and unlike the other songs on the album, it sounds like it features an actual drum set rather than a sound coming from a soundboard.
After this, the album takes a turn for the soulful with John Legend. In “One Woman Man,” Legend does what he’s good at, showcasing his timeless vocals in this timeless track. I can just picture him on a small stage in a smoke-filled bar, belting his heart out in a different time period. It’s tracks like Legend’s, which features actual instruments, that make me want to continue to listen to the album. This track also pairs well with another song on the album, “What Would It Take” by Anderson East, which has the similar sound of a small, exclusive underground bar. These tracks add the sexy, suave voices and the desire of the chase.
“Code Blue” by The Dream is only worth the listen for the feature guitar; it’s the main reason I enjoy the song. It’s groovy, which is the only redeeming aspect of the song, and I feel as if the vocalist over exerts his vocal range. “Bom Bidi Bom” has similar aspects, with the guitar adding a danceable, groovy vibe to the track. This track by Nick Jonas and Nikki Minaj is the track that gets stuck in your head, and even though you don’t know all the words, you find yourself singing along anyway.
However, I don’t know if they did a good job at placing it right before Sia and her track “Helium.” Maybe they were trying to arrange the tracklist so that it goes along with the movie, but whatever the reason, I feel as if the transition is shaky. One reason is that Sia, of course, is going to blow the song out of the water; it’s the perfect ballad that deserves all the praise. Her voice is paired magically with symphonic undertones and violins, which are the perfect touch. While the song has a somber tone, it is the ideal pick-me-up and inspiring track. Another song that reflects these aspects is “What Is Love?” by Frances. While it is another beautiful ballad addition to the track list, I honestly feel like it is almost not needed. Frances’s track has the same beautiful ballad urgency as Sia’s track, but with the album already pushing its length, I think it could’ve been cut. Despite that, it is a beautiful musical number.
The same goes for the next track I’m going to touch on. If you listened to the first album, you know that Fifty Shades of Grey doesn’t shy away from new renditions of classic songs. While this album only features one, it is golden: Corinne Bailey Rae showcases beautiful vocals as she belts out “The Scientist.” I love the original version of this song, however I love this rendition just as much if not more. Any song with a violin is a song I’m going to pay close attention to. It’s a timeless, classic way to perform a song.
The same goes for tracks that feature horns. For me, they tend to transport me back to a different time while still remaining modern. This stands true for “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” by José James. I picture this song being performed in a similar setting to that of John Legend’s track, only this track has a more relaxing, happy tone. I can picture people dancing together on a small dance floor, smiles on their faces. This track makes me feel something, which is so important when it comes to a song’s memorability.
The next track, “Birthday” by JP Cooper, is similar, just with a modern feel to it. However, it is so similar in tempo and sound that it almost seems unnecessary. Plus, it isn’t executed that well. I think Cooper overextends his range, almost making me cringe.
It’s okay though, because the next track is definitely a pick-me-up. “I Need A Good One” is a perfect example of what we are hearing on the radio right now. However, the upbeat tempo is welcome in this extremely long album. The song urges you to dance and clap along. There’s a song on every album that makes you desire to roll your windows down and crank the volume up. This is that song.
Then it’s back to the mellow garage jams with “Empty Pack of Cigarettes” by Joseph Angel, who has the voice of an angel (please, forgive me). The rawness of his vocals and the guitar creates that sex appeal I was mentioning earlier. Angel uses his vocals to his advantage, with sweet highs and savory low notes. This is the soft rock ballad that makes one swoon and hit replay.
“On His Knees” by Danny Elfman has an air of somber mystery to it. Bringing back the Twilight ties, it is a very Twilight-esque track. It features no vocals; it’s just a classic instrumental. While it is a good track, the only aspect it adds to the album is a much needed contrast. The same goes for “Making It Real.” While the two songs show emotion that some of the other tracks lack, I feel as if they would have been more effective if they had been spaced throughout the album instead of tossed in at the end.
Overall, I would have given the album a 4 out of 5, but due to my issues with the arrangement of the track list, the length and the variety, I would give a 3 or 3.5. It didn’t hold up to the expectations I had from the first album. With that being said, if you aren’t a fan of the movies, I wouldn’t be ashamed to check out the album. The songs are able to stand separate from the film and deserved to be heard.