There’s been a drought in music: it’s been six long years without a Punk Goes Pop volume. We’re thirsty – and Demi Lovato has delivered. Not content with simply making some stellar pop bops over her ten year career before shifting over to an edged-up sound, Lovato revisits some of her biggest and brightest and gives them a fresh coat of black gloss on the delightfully titled ‘REVAMPED’. It’s a perfect balance between surprising (co-signs from Slash and Bert McCracken of The Used are gleefully good), nostalgic, and wonderfully, playfully rebellious. Lovato has been vocal about their love of death metal, rock, and alternative for pretty much their whole career, so it’s no surprise that ‘REVAMPED’, as well as being a fun listen, sounds like Lovato having the most indulgent fun of perhaps their whole career.
‘HOLY FVCK’, Lovato’s initial foray into the world of the alternative on her own records, was quite a serious album. Understandable, given the pressures of proving yourself when you make that leap – as well as the subject matter she was tackling, including addiction, mental health, reflections on being taken advantage of as a child star, mixed in with the louder “EAT ME AS I AM” anthems. But on ‘REVAMPED’, we get to just hear the pure musical excitement Lovato has to adapt to the new space they’re occupying, as well as their love for a pop back catalogue they want to lean into, not dismiss in the name of reinvention.
With this in mind, ‘Give Your Heart A Break’, which is where Bert McCracken pops up, is an easy highlight. When it comes to pop music, cheesy is NOT a criticism, and in this instance, it is in fact the highest of praises. New massive drum fills, pulsing builds and infectious riffs aside, the duet between Lovato and McCracken, complete with harmonies, soaring high-note ad-libs, makes for an emotive performance that reminds you of Lovato’s acting credits – they can do teen angst, passion, melodrama. (And Glee, which Lovato appeared on for a handful of episodes in 2013, delivered the other best reimagining of the original ‘Give Your Heart A Break’ the previous year, so people who already loved this song in all its iterations will appreciate the back-and-forth theatricality that Lovato and McCracken NAIL).
Elsewhere, conversely, Lovato’s reimaginings instead prove her rock chops throughout her back catalogue – as soon as the opening fanfare of Confident rings out, it positively erases all memories of its previous version. It feels like this was how it was always meant to sound, swaggering and stomping with its new sheen of contemporary emo electro SFX and arena-sized bass reverberations. Lovato’s delivery is more or less the same, if with a touch more bite and a touch less girlboss. Sorry Not Sorry, on the other hand, is unrecognisable but sounds natural and suits the injection of power that both Lovato’s new instrumental and Slash’s keening guitar solo provide.
On some tracks, the changes are more slight – Skyscraper’s rock version is still fairly restrained, and La La Land was already a rock hit, let’s be real. But having these tracks on ‘REVAMPED’ is part of crafting the narrative Lovato is telling, intentionally or unintentionally. In the lead-up to the record, Lovato explained that it was borne of figuring out how to work her previous hits into a setlist alongside cuts from ‘HOLY FVCK’ whilst remaining true to the essence of the songs. But with re-recordings and re-releases so pertinent in the conversation about the music industry at the moment, with Taylor Swift’s omnipresent endeavour in reclamation, we’re all a little more attuned to what the act of re-recording and re-releasing means – particularly when it comes to artists who have been under public scrutiny since childhood, as Lovato and Swift have. So although it may be a lighthearted exercise in updating old pop bangers to suit a new style, Lovato’s career-spanning retelling is also an unexpectedly touching retrospective by the time it gets to the explosive rendition of ‘Don’t Forget’ that serve as a joyful end-credits.
Words: Ims Taylor