Def Jam Recordings
Release Date: September 24th 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Unboxing Intro
- Box In The Ocean
- Lie To Me
- I Miss You, Don’t Call Me
- Middle Ground (feat. Chika)
- Somebody Else
- Drama Queen
- Best Days
- Sweet Dream
- Find My Boy
- Voice In My Head
- Slow Lie
- You Let Me Down
- Apartment Song
Singer-songwriter and pop artist Alessia Cara, native of Canada and writer of the hit song “Scars To Your Beautiful”, released her sophomore album The Pains Of Growing in November 2018 (which I reviewed right here!). Following that album, Alessia dropped her latest EP This Summer in September the following year. I reviewed that project here, as well as blogged about Alessia as well; while Alessia also dropped her single “I Choose” to retailers last year (inspired by the Netflix film the Willoughby’s. Jon reviewed that single here; and once you’ve read all of those posts, you can read on, alright? Throughout the majority of my life, there were in fact times in the past where I thought an album was lesser and not even worth listening to at all if it didn’t overtly speak about Jesus and if it wasn’t ‘Christian enough’! But now that I know to treat albums and songs of mainstream artists and of Christian artists the same, as God speaks to us through both types of artists equally, and we can be inspired and encouraged by whatever He chooses to speak through… in that respect, Alessia’s discography, is well worth the listen. Especially Alessia’s 2019 EP, which I have recently found to be one of the most inspiring and honest EP’s of 2019 in retrospect. In fact, it was really since the start of Jon’s and my blog series about influential artists that my outlook on mainstream music started to change, and since that time I’ve been blessed and thankful to hear all kinds of uplifting and hopeful music- Alessia’s songs included. And while Alessia also unveiled a 4 song Christmas EP, titled Holiday Stuff, in 2020; the collection of poignant and heartfelt songs do in fact have their place in society, especially as Alessia still encourages us all to dig deep and look past our circumstances, to look at the brighter things of life. As far as lyrics go, Alessia’s is as deep as any artist at the moment. And it is with this outlook that I dive into Alessia’s brand new album- her 3rd, titled In The Meantime. The singles “Shapeshifter” and “Sweet Dream” released in July, and were highly anticipated by myself (and probably by others!), considering Alessia’s already-high reputation. So I was intrigued about this album to say the least. And thankfully though, Alessia hasn’t disappointed me yet! And I hope she never will!
Starting out young, I constantly felt like I had to prove myself as a writer in my first projects. I felt this pressure to be impressive with my songwriting, so I worded things in a more roundabout way to make them sound better – it never felt like just saying the thing was enough.
Now, the deeper I get into my career and the stronger the foundation I build for myself, the more I’ve realised that’s not why my fans are my fans. There is value in simplicity and in just saying things the way I need to. I’ve had more time and the comfort of my own space to process things over the last year, and from diving deeper with my songwriting and strengthening that muscle of self-expression, I’ve become more honest in my music. I make better music because I’m not holding back as much.
I’ve always known that Alessia’s songs generally have expressed to us a sense of maturity in lyrics and in music, far beyond her years as an artist. Mind you, Alessia is still in her mid-20s; yet her ability to create music that tugs at our souls and hits hard at our emotions, is quite frankly one of the biggest reasons why I firmly believe that Alessia is influential at this very moment, and will be even more so and extremely impactful for all generations (but especially younger generations) in the years upon years into the future. Both “Shapeshifter” and “Sweet Dream” (the 5th and 13th track from In The Meantime respectively) are no different in terms of their relatability to each one of us and our journeys through life. With “Shapeshifter” being a jazzy, laid back reflective tune about Alessia wanting to either get back together with an ex or to get them back for all of the pain they caused (in the song she isn’t sure whether she loves the person or not, considering she’s calling them a ‘shapeshifter’); “Sweet Dream” on the other hand is a tune which dives deep into the feelings of insomnia- and the fact that Alessia keeps dwelling more so on the future and the deeper questions in life. Or as Alessia has herself reiterated- [Sweet Dream] represents the hardship + helplessness surrounding my last couple of years. This one’s particularly about my insomnia and the endless hoops my brain jumps through at night while I’m supposed to be sleeping! never fun! On the flipside, there’s “Shapeshifter,” which represents the more sophisticated and fiery parts of the album. I had to experience different forms of pain to regain my footing and this song feels unwavering, despite it not being about the happiest of things (got my feelings hurt whatever). Sweet Dream is delirious, vulnerable and whimsical. Shapeshifter is dramatic, sharp and unabashed. 2 sides to 1 coin. The coin is this era and me. And as Alessia has tackled the topic of potential forgiveness (or swift dumping) of a partner and insomnia in these two tracks; at first glance it seems that In The Meantime will be deep, introspective, and one of the most thought-provoking albums of the year. Boy, was I excited for whatever else Alessia planned to be diving deep into in this upcoming untitled 3rd album! And guess what? The rest of the 16 tracks here, after me dwelling upon them and listening to them for a few days now, are some of the most powerful, compelling, honest and personal songs of the entire year thus far!
I was writing from a place of necessity a few months ago. My mental health was so bad that I desperately needed to purge the feelings I was having. People do different things, but for me the only way was to write it down; to get it on paper, outside of myself.
Once the feelings were out, I realised I could repurpose them – maybe what I expressed could mean something to someone else. Things that seem nonsensical, or so selfishly specific to your situation, are often the gems that people resonate the most with. After all, every feeling has been felt before, and it’s those specific feelings that people actually understand very well.
I also think I write about pain differently now. I used to write pain like “poor me, I feel so lost” because that’s how I felt at the time. Through growth and healing, I can now look over my shoulder, see how far I’ve come, and write about pain from a place that doesn’t feel so stuck. My songs feel more light and more hopeful than before – ‘Shapeshifter’ and ‘Sweet Dream’ are both not very positive songs, but I’ve written about the heartbreak and insomnia in a way that is witty, and more “poor you” than “poor me”.
I came straight out of high school [when my first album released], where my lifestyle was so different to that of a professional musician. I lived such a secluded life – I went from school to home, school to home, and never travelled anywhere. I hadn’t figured out who I was, as I hadn’t explored anything yet. To jump into the completely opposite lifestyle so quickly and so young was difficult – I was very afraid, and didn’t know how to say no.
Now, I’m in a much better place where I’m able to take care of myself. It’s actually only just this year that I’ve started to understand the value of what I do, and learned to enjoy it properly. I have a bunch of tools in my toolbox that I’ve gained from all my experiences. I feel a lot better.
18 tracks on an album is quite a lot… for anyone to digest and swallow and gain something from the experience. But for Alessia’s album, there’s plenty of honest-to-God truth here, that makes this album all the more palatable and agreeable to listen to. In The Meantime starts off with incredibly introspective opening interlude “Unboxing Intro”, whereby Alessia sings out her frustrations about her state of mind and how reality is revealing itself at the moment. It’s a frenetic 43 second free-verse type track, and sets the tone for the album; while the next song “Box In The Ocean” dives deeper into Alessia’s psyche. A jazzy/big-band style 3 minute tune, “Box In The Ocean” speaks about all of the fears and insecurities that we might have, our rational and irrational fears that just keep adding up; but in this song Alessia speaks about pushing down her fears and emotions, by putting them in a ‘box in the ocean’ (obviously a metaphorical and proverbial box). A song that peels back and analyses the reasons why we are afraid to share the ‘real’ us with those around us, “Box In The Ocean” hopefully is the catalyst for us all to be more honest, vulnerable, real and authentic. “Bluebird”, a laidback acoustic ballad, is next, speaks about a scenario where the persona is singing to their ex, wishing them the best and letting them go. While Alessia may or may not be singing about herself, the sentiment remains- that we shouldn’t hold any animosity towards people we care about, and that we should always want the people in our lives to be truly happy, however that looks like. It’s a song that is revealed in riddles… but this is what Alessia does best, and on here she excels greatly.
“Lie To Me”, a high-octane, energetic diss to ‘nice’ guys and in particular to a guy her friend was dating whom she thought was shady at the time, is a track that is lyrically quite savage and brutal, as Alessia relays that she would like her guy to come clean as opposed to being suspicious and jealous all the time; while “Fishbowl” delves deep into feelings of depression, mental illness, isolation and loneliness. With Alessia outlining how the pandemic has amplified all of these uncertain and negative emotions; this track and the many questions that come along with it is the result of being ‘too deep’ in your feelings. And as Alessia probes and probes and speaks about what we all may be feeling: ‘…it’s gettin’ too hard out here, don’t feel like anybody, is it getting hot in here? It’s me against my body, I wanna disappear, why is everything so foggy? I’m seeing double, I’m in trouble now…’, we are encouraged to seek help and to lean on our friends and family, if ever we feel like we’re struggling in any capacity. The acoustic guitar driven slow ballad “I Miss You, Don’t Call Me” speaks about the dichotomy of loving some yet wanting space at the same time, and tells the story of an ex who the persona isn’t truly over, but knows isn’t healthy for them in the long term; while the laid back piano led slow ballad “Middle Ground” features rapper Chika on guest vocals, and features a duality and dichotomy whereby Alessia relays that ‘…I don’t know what I want, would I be better off alone or with someone? Drivin’ me crazy…’. With the song being about the tension Alessia feels when she sometimes wants to be alone and at other times longs to be in a relationship with someone; we are met with honest and raw emotions that we all might be feeling while we’re at home during the pandemic. This period of time has helped us to be more independent but has also hindered our social skills; and Alessia displays this friction quite beautifully.
It’s natural for friendships in your own life of 70-80 years to change and evolve- though it may be our intention to keep all of our friends for life, the reality is that circumstances dictate differently. This realisation is explored in “Somebody Else”, where Alessia sings about a friendship she no longer is in, and lamenting about the person who is now ‘somebody else’; and this track also reminds us to never take for granted our relationships with those around us- we never know what will happen tomorrow. “Drama Queen”, a no-nonsense savage takedown of an ex, is a groovy bass guitar prominent 3 minute melody that also exposes an ex for loving the drama instead of loving the person and all of their flaws and faults; while Alessia reminds us that people should be in relationship with whoever they wholly love, not because they love the titles or the performance associated with the relationship. “Clockwork”, a melody that speaks about the transience and fickleness of time, reminds us about how quickly we are here one moment and gone the next, implying that we all should be grateful for our roots and thankful for our parents for being a big part of our lives; while “Best Days” is a clear album standout, with the piano-only ballad being where Alessia voices question after question about life, death, mortality, meaning and purpose, wondering if her best days are behind her, and that ‘…what if the rest stays the same for all my life? I’m running with my eyes closed, so it goes, you live and then you die, but the hardest pill to swallow is the meantime, are the best days just the ones that we survive?…’.
With a track list of 18 songs, you might say that that number is in fact overkill. You might be right (but sometimes having an introspective album is needed in the moment!), but that’s why “Find My Boy” is so refreshing. A Caribbean style melody that doesn’t take itself so seriously, Alessia highlights the fact that she’s not in a relationship and that she longs to be; while “Voice In My Head” brings the subject matter away from the light and fluffy and back to the real and gritty. With Alessia earnestly and powerfully speaking more about anxiety, depression, panic attacks and insecurities, she also concludes that she’s tired of the ‘voice’ in her head, always wanting to be rid of her inner demons; while “Slow Lie” the piano prominent ballad, has Alessia calling out someone she knows, telling them that she can tell they are lying about their status and their popularity- it’s not even a good lie. The song speaks about us trying to big-note ourselves for no apparent reason than for clout; and Alessia lets us know that these people are people that she doesn’t want to associate with; while “You Let Me Down”, one of the few mid-tempo anthemic ballads, is the penultimate track on the album speaks about someone who has let Alessia down- with Alessia shaking her head in disappointment, we are reminded that we need to mean what we say and say what we mean when it comes to people around us who hang on our ever word. In The Meantime then ends with the jovial and celebratory “Apartment Song”- a track where Alessia accepts her new outlook post-pandemic, and celebrates who she is right now. A song that is the epitome of this entire 18-track journey, In The Meantime is the most mature album to date from Alessia, and is simply a joy to listen to as we traverse through relevant and relatable themes and inspiring messages.
I was thinking of a lot of different things, and I feel like those rhetorical questions came from my very specific anxieties about life and its meaning. Not to get too philosophical, but I mean, last year was like a very strange awakening for me, where I felt like I opened a portal that I could never close again. I just became so aware of life and death and the impermanence of life, and it just led me down the rabbit hole, of pain and confusion and stress and fear.
The whole idea of the meaning of life is kind of a question that will remain unanswered until it’s over, and it was a very prominent part of this writing process, and a very prominent part of the last year for me. Just trying to unfold exactly what it means to be human, and what the whole point of it is, and what the point of me is — it could get kind of dark sometimes. But also it led me to a lot of nice sentiments, and a good perspective as well.
I feel like on this album, I definitely zoomed in a little bit and I was able to write songs about more mundane things, more nuanced things, and just expand on them as much as possible. While on a more literal sense, that song is about being stuck at home and feeling like you’re trapped in a fishbowl, in a more personal sense, it’s also about my struggles with anxiety and panic disorder and how those feelings can manifest physically for me, too. I was not only stuck in one place, but I also felt very stuck in my own body as well. And that’s what anxiety can do to you — it can make you almost feel like your body’s turning against you, in a sense.
I always say this — that I feel like I’m five or 10 years too late, that I would have been perfectly happy five or 10 years ago. Even five years ago when I started, the industry was a world different than it is now. I feel like I just kind of got over the line, where I didn’t have to have a crazy amount of followers to be successful. My label signed me with no music out, which is very rare nowadays. I feel like now you have to establish yourself before a label or the industry even looks twice at you, which is kind of an unfair ask. But I’m lucky in that end.
It is strange, to have started then and see how it’s changed. I try to find the balance, because I am aware of the value of social media, and the way that it’s dictating essentially the world and what’s good and what’s not — like the Internet dictates what radio stations and labels should be paying attention to. And I do agree with it in a lot of ways, because I do think the consumers are the ones who should decide.
But at the same time, going back to feeling disposable, it’s like — if you’re not constantly present and not constantly like displaying parts of your life all the time, that you’re no longer interesting. Which can be tough for a shy, private person like me to find that balance. I think I’ve found a pretty good balance, where I’m able to find ways to connect with my listeners and talk to them on Twitter and be very open, but then always try to keep one aspect of who I am to myself.
It’s not really known if this album will rise up the charts for Alessia Cara. As of right now, this album isn’t charting the greatest… but whatever the case, Alessia should be extremely proud of herself for releasing In The Meantime. She is one of today’s most vulnerable and passionate songwriters, alongside John Mayer, Jon Foreman, and Bear Rinehart to name a few. And from these projects alone (Know-It-All, The Pains Of Growing, This Summer and In The Meantime; plus a host of other collaborations, including “Stay” with Zedd and “1-800-273-8255” with Logic) and the amount of work she’s put in, not to mention the fact that lyrically she’s singing about what we’re all probably feeling; it’s hard not to be a fan, of which I am definitely one now. And with Alessia in my opinion already having written plenty of deep lyrics that probably several artists haven’t even recorded that deep in their longer careers; well, if you’re not listening to Alessia’s music by now… one is you’re missing out, and two is well you better hop on the bandwagon straight away! So…bring on the world tour or a Christmas album or even another studio album! Whichever way, I’ll be waiting…with probably a host of other fans and listeners. In The Meantime is fantastically awesome- and I’d say everyone will agree with me. Don’t you reckon?
5 songs to listen to: Fishbowl, Middle Ground, Best Days, Voice In My Head, Apartment Song
RIYL: Tori Kelly, Selena Gomez, Zendaya, Hailee Steinfeld, Rachel Platten, Britt Nicole, Lauren Daigle