From The New Yorker: Charlie Puth, ‘Voicenotes'”

Rea Irvin

From The New Yorker

Charlie Puth, courtesy Atlantic Records

Charlie Puth, Voicenotes

June 5, 2018
Doreen St. Félix

The strange trinity of YouTube, Ellen DeGeneres, and the Fast and the Furious franchise shuttled the twenty-six-year-old Charlie Puth to fame. In the early twenty-tens, his channel Charlies Vlogs, which featured videos of him performing covers and original songs, gained hundreds of thousands of followers; in 2012, DeGeneres brought him on her talk show and signed him to her record label; in 2015, right out of Berklee College of Music, he wrote—“in, like, ten minutes,” he has said—one of the most commercially successful singles of the decade, the pop-rap dirge See You Again, for the Furious 7 soundtrack. The song, a tribute to the franchise’s late star, Paul Walker, is almost impressive in its lethargy.

So was Puth’s début album. Full of bland doo-wop ballads, Nine Track Mind was, according to Metacritic, one of the worst-reviewed albums of all time. Puth seemed a genuine talent strained by nostalgia-baiting and the exigencies of social media. So you could imagine my surprise when Voicenotes, his follow-up, turned out to be a pleasure. Puth, who produces his own songs, prods the caverns of R. & B. and pop with a slinky confidence. He’s reverent but audacious: when he has Boyz II Men provide the backing vocals to If You Leave Me Now, the listener doesn’t balk. The opener, The Way I Am, includes a riff that shadows the iconic notes of Beat It; the next track, Attention, uses the bass to build a cocky groove. Unlike many of his peers, Puth remains committed to the joys of a well-wrought chorus, and his nimble refrains deserve comparison to the heyday of Taylor Swift. The loose narrative of Voicenotes winds around Puth’s West Coast malaise. (He grew up in New Jersey.) A song called LA Girls produces the memorable lyrics: “There was Nikki, Nicole, Tiffany, and Heather . . . . But you say I change like the East Coast weather.” Such lines bottle the absurdist fizz of Instagram, the shrugs of the Snapchat nouveau riche, and a pouting male insecurity. What keeps it from collapsing into schlock is the pure charisma of Puth’s songwriting.

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