There’s an annoying new album release strategy that seems to be how “up and coming” pop stars do things now, and it goes like this: a very good single by an unheard new talent is released and everyone gets quite excited. The marketing team panics and decides they should probably capitalise on all this attention, and an EP of said talent’s six best currently finished songs is rush-released. Then, six months later, they tack on a bunch of songs that are not bad but not exactly the same calibre and release the whole lot as an album. No one’s that interested because we’ve already heard everything worth hearing and the whole experience feels a little unsatisfactory for fans and artists alike.
This is the problem faced by Alessia Cara, whose very good pop EP (Four Pink Walls) has been lumbered with some fairly uninspiring ballads and turned into a debut album, Know-It-All.
Luckily, the EP tracks are still good. Sleeper hit ‘Here’, an anthem for those of us who don’t know why we keep going to bullshit parties full of dickheads is a woozy mid-tempo jam that isn’t getting old even a year on. ‘I’m Yours’ is a surprisingly mature song for an 18-year-old to have co-written, an exasperated ode to accidentally falling in love when you were having a perfectly nice time being single, with a plodding Mirrors-style beat chugging along in the background. “Some nerve you have to break up my lonely and tell me you want me,” she sings. “How dare you march into my heart, oh how rude of you to ruin my miserable…”
It’s as often about the teen we wish we’d been as it is the insecure dork we actually were.
There’s a level of self-awareness to the album that most teens don’t possess but, despite that, Know-It-All is a very teenage album. From the thread of sometimes misplaced self-assurance that runs through it to the sugary-sweet Eng-Lit phrasing of latter half songs like ‘Scars To Your Beautiful’, it’s as often about the teen we wish we’d been as it is the insecure dork we actually were.
There’s a lot of talk of tearing down walls and entering new territories. The only song Cara wrote without any outside help is the EP’s title song, ‘Four Pink Walls’; a reflection on her childhood bedroom and the nature of aging. She’s painted her room since writing that song – it’s a more grown up shade of ivory now – and not to labour a point but that feels like a decent allegory for Alessia Cara, artist. Know-It-All was her training ground, her riding with stabilisers on, her pink bedroom that she’d really outgrown. It was nice for a while. It suited her. But now it’s time to paint over and start again.