Skylar Grey • Don’t Look Down • Wonderland/Interscope • US Release Date: July 09, 2013
“You blew our love like smoke into the air / but I never loved you quite enough / love you quite enough to even…” This quote epitomizes the rebellious, feisty, and strong-willed spirit that Skylar Grey showcases throughout long awaited 2013 debut effort Don’t Look Down. Face it, Grey has more than paid her dues, lending her beautifully distinct vocal contributions to a number of high profile tracks including Fort Minor (“Where’d You Go” as Holly Brook), Dr. Dre (“I Need A Doctor”), and Diddy-Dirty Money (“I’m Coming Home”). The question for me was always, what kind of album would the talented singer/songwriter make, particularly given her success with hip hop collaborations. Don’t Look Down successfully affirms Grey makes a pop album with plenty of hip-hop sensibility (“Back From The Dead”), splashes of urban/R&B flare (“Wear Me Out”), and sort of indie-songwriter fare (“White Suburban”). The results are much more exceptional than expected.
“Back From The Dead” opens darkly and mysteriously, anchored by superb production work by J.R. Rotem, with co-production by Ross Golan. The piano, cello, and synths within the production truly play a vital role in the track’s success. Grey’s dilemma is a past flame tries to return to her life, but to her, he’s been ‘dead’ evidenced by the chorus: “I never thought that you and I would ever meet again / I mourn the loss of you sometimes and pray for peace within / I mourn the loss of you sometimes and pray for peace within / the world ‘distraught’ cannot describe how my heart has been / but where do we begin now that you’re back from the dead?” Big Sean portrays the ‘dead flame’, giving his side of the former relationship gone south: “Swear we’re f**king we’re dominoes but, here we are / now I’m trying to find an answer in this Bottle girl…” While it’s all bad between Grey and Big Sean, it’s a magnificent musical listen for me (us).
“Final Warning” continues in dark fashion, this time with standout Alex Da Kid handling production duties. Grey’s feistiness remains full throttle, evidenced by her sarcasm throughout the verses with lines like “Good morning gorgeous / I drove your truck in the lake last night” or even more evil “Good afternoon dear / how does the rope feel around your neck?” Despite her vindictiveness, Grey points the finger at her object of hate whether it’s “…you’re just f**kin yourself when you don’t read the signs…” or on the chorus “This is your final warning / there’s a dark cloud over head… someone’s gonna get hurt.” Apparently! Buddy, I’d bounce!
“Wear Me Out” switches from dark indie-influenced pop to retro-soul with it’s six-eight groove. Grey blesses us with a beautiful falsetto, not to mention continually excellent songwriting. “Smart ass little girl / always on the run / playing with fire / and daddy’s gun…” she sings on the first verse. But ultimately, it’s not about her, but the guy on her [bleep] list you might say: “I’m too young to drink / too greet to think / you say these things / and it wears me out…” Even though she’s ‘worn out’, it doesn’t show on “Religion”, a popular topic of secular music in 2013 (have you noticed). While Grey doesn’t go ‘atheistic’ in the same sense her colleagues (see Black Sabbath or Vampire Weekend), she offers herself as being her boo’s ‘religion’ you might say: “When you don’t know what to believe in / let me be your religion / it’s a f**ked up world that we live in / so let me be your religion.” The world might be messed up, but Skylar, you make it a better place with your music. 🙂
“C’mon Let Me Ride” featuring Eminem is a ‘trip’, but a cool one for sure! There are several ways you can interpret the song’s most ‘dirty’ cut, which happens to sample Queen’s “Bicycle Ride”. Regardless of the way you interpret it, the track is filled with innuendo. If you watch the music video, Grey and Eminem seem to be making fun of shallow girly, girls, comparable to what P!nk did on “Stupid Girls” (I’m Not Dead). But if you listen to the song without the visual reference, you may simply interpret it simply as a clever, but in-your-face sexual number. The chorus would confirm the sensual: “Come on, let me ride your bicycle / it’s so fantastical on your bicycle / we can get a little more physical… I feel it comin’, comin’, comin’…” Then there are those double-meaning lines like “If you get a bee sting, I can suck out all the poison…” or my favorite “I’m not like the sluts in this town / they make me blehh in my mouth…” Eminem certainly amps up ‘the nasty’ when he goes here: “…With a bag of prophylactics as big as Mick Jagger lips…” “C’mon Let Me Ride is a sinful, carnal triumph.
“Sunshine” is much more angelic than its predecessor, yet still manages to compel. “Look at the sky there’s no need to cry / ain’t got money but we got sunshine…” Very true and very positively stated if I do say so myself. “Pulse” is even stronger, with a driving groove and a unique harmonic progression (for you music theory nerds). If “Sunshine” lacked the bite of earlier cuts, “Pulse” returns it. “I hope you give her good… the kind you didn’t give me…” and “Does she know we…on the table where the two of you eat / do you use the same tricks that swept me off my feet?” basically show us that Skylar is not a happy… Well, not exactly actually, because go to the chorus and she says “Well come take my pulse to see how much I care / you won’t get a rise out of me anywhere…” WOW! But with the ‘rain’ comes ‘sunshine’ again, this time on “Glow in The Dark”, where former tactless lines are replaced with “I’m gonna raise my hands / gonna take a stand / gonna turn my voice up loud…” Most surprising is, it actually works, and works well. Go figure.
“S**t, Man!” kind of follows the ‘oscillate between good and bad’ trend, but the theme of the ‘bad’ is more meaningful here. “So what happens if I choose / to have a child, have a child with you? / do you believe that we can make it throughout?” Get the picture? Angel Haze provides a rap on the third verse, further bring light to the ‘grown up’ scenario (“…and you say you’re not ready / I don’t believe in abortions…”) “Clear Blue Sky” is antithetical to it’s positive title (“I don’t wanna stay here / cause everyday it rains here / underneath a clear blue sky…”) while on “Tower (Don’t Look Down)” Grey knows the relationship will never work (“You’re high upon the tower / now don’t look down / I will be okay here on the ground / and you can always call / to say hello from time to time / when you’re no longer mine”). Fourth single and closing cut “White Suburban” is haunting and dark in quality. It is a true singer/songwriter’s cut, composed solely by Holly “Skylar Grey” Hafermann. Also, theory nerds, we get a shout out once more with a unique harmonic progression!
Overall, Don’t Look Down is a superb pop effort. Consistent through and through, Skylar Grey proves herself to be an artist that shouldn’t bee slept on. Extremely gifted in both voice and songwriting capacities, folks shouldn’t hesitate to purchase this effort – just do it! With no major rubs, Don’t Look Down is a pop album I’ve been waiting for in 2013.
Favorites: “Back From The Dead”; “Final Warning”; “Wear Me Out”; “C’mon Let Me Ride”; “Pulse”