Like many of her Disney alum, Demi Lovato has been on a quest for a more mature sound and image as she has moved into adulthood. In a lot of cases, this takes the form of dropping a few naughty words into the lyrics and loading songs with sexual allusions and imagery. Neither of these elements is exactly new to Lovato’s work, but both get a reasonable workout on her sixth studio album, Tell Me You Love Me.
For the most part, Tell Me You Love Me is sonically subdued, occupying the soulful end of the R&B flavoured pop spectrum, ensuring Lovato’s not-insubstantial vocal talents are the centre of attention. Lovato’s full lyric soprano voice has matured well over the years and, apart from a minor croakiness on lead single and opening track Sorry Not Sorry, is in fine form through-out the record, with Lovato deftly utilising her full range – from sultry lows to powerful highs – without relying on wildly jumping up and down her register.
Aside from running longer than necessary, the plaintive You Don’t Do It for Me Anymore is the standout song of the album, with Lovato’s vocals perfectly serving the track’s mood and imparting strong emotion at just the right moments. Ruin the Friendship, with its insistent bassline, uses horns to augment its minimal sound while the horns on the eponymous Tell Me You Love Me provide additional warmth. The pre-chorus on Daddy Issues represents a rare vocal misstep, but the song’s disturbing lyrics – hidden amongst fun, upbeat dance-pop – distract from this somewhat.
Where Tell Me You Love Me falls short is with its repetitive song structures and, Daddy Issues notwithstanding, uninspired lyrical focus. Lonely manages to offer something a little unexpected from a compositional standpoint, yet ultimately the track doesn’t compel and Lil Wayne’s guest vocals feel like a tawdry exercise in cross-marketing. Any doubts about Lovato’s vocal prowess are quickly dispelled on Tell Me You Love Me, and the album offers an intriguing sound that would certainly pay off for the singer if it were paired with more adventurous writing.