Release Date: October 15th 2021
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Same Old Brand New Me
- Tomorrow Night
- What the Stars See (feat. Karen Fairchild & Lindsay Ell)
- Say It First
- Break Too
- Just a Girl
- Mind Your Own (feat. Stephen Jenkins)
- Some People
- No Now
Cassadee Pope has been an artist that I’ve been listening to lately, not just because I’ve been more intentional at seeking out country music and artists like Keith Urban, Little Big Town, Lady A, Lauren Alaina, The Shires, Tenille Arts, Sugarland and The McClymonts; but rather, Cassadee’s music is fascinating, and her musical genre has been as unique as it has been different- not quite country and not quite punk-pop, Cassadee has been in and around the music industry for quite some time. Since her Hey Monday days in the late 2000s, Cassadee won The Voice (US) Season 3 back in the day (2012), and ever since then, she’s been trying her hand at country music with the release of her albums Frame By Frame in 2013 and stages in 2019. Now with the release of ‘What the Stars See’ earlier on during the year that explored Cassadee’s rock roots (featuring Little Big Town singer Karen Fairchild and singer/guitarist Lindsay Ell), we have seen a glimpse of what the trajectory of Cassadee’s new album will be like- country and rock, fused together to create something unique, beautiful, heartfelt and something new in a sea of monotonous.
Certainly an artist that is refreshing, in a country genre that is starting to bring up to the fore, artists who are pushing the mould and boundares as to what the definition of country music even is, and what to even expect from a genre that has lasted for as long as songs and music has ever been in circulation (artists like Lindsay Ell, Cassadee Pope, The Shires, Ingrid Andreass, Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris and Thomas Rhett); Cassadee for me will always be remembered for her song ‘I Am Invincible’, the first song I heard from her, via a mashup (with the song ‘Live Forever’ by The Band Perry) that pop/cover artists Cimorelli recorded way back in 2015. Now fast-forward to 2021, and we as a site unveiled a blog about her impact and influence, not to mention a review of her acoustic album Rise and Shine in 2020. Now in November, we see the brand-new album release from Cassadee. Thrive released on October 15th, and upon the heels of both ‘What the Stars See’ and ‘Say It First’, Cassadee has given, at least through these two pre-release songs, a real indication that her new album Thrive will be more rock/pop-punk leaning than country, which is still ok. ‘What the Stars See’ released in May, and ‘Say it First’ in July. Now as 2021 seeks to come to an end, we see Cassadee unveil her most ambitious and compelling album yet. Thrive is for anyone who loves punk-pop, artists like Avril Lavigne and Stellar Kart, or anyone who has enjoyed Cassadee’s music in the past, and want something, refreshing, unique, and new.
Released earlier on in May, ‘What the Stars See’ was the first glimpse into something new from Cassadee, since her acoustic 2020 album Rise and Shine. Cassadee was initially the lead singer of pop-punk group Hey Monday prior to her solo country career, so the fact that Cassadee herself was moulding and fusing both country and pop-punk together on this new song, was nothing short of expected and unexpected at the same time. Maybe it’s because I assumed that the genre that someone starts in would be more-or-less the genre that they’d be in for quite some time…with a few ‘deviations’ if you will, but by and large, artists generally stick to their lane, genre-wise. So for Cassadee to incorporate pop-punk and country, well; I don’t think country and pop-punk were fused together by anyone, ever. And so, this song came around, and I was intrigued. Standing at a bit over 3 minutes; and featuring the guitar excellence of Lindsay Ell; ‘What the Stars See’ presents this longing to understand a perspective much larger than your own. To long to understand things from ‘the stars’ POV is to want there to be something bigger than ourselves; to hope that things aren’t necessarily what they seem. To know that there is a God looking upon our situations from a birdseye view; and seeing everything in our own lives (because He’s outside of time), gives us comfort and understanding, that what we undertake in life and what happens to us and because of us, is all part of something bigger than any one of us can comprehend and understand.
And that gives us comfort, in some way. Knowing that you don’t have control everything is very freeing. Knowing that God uses everything that happens in our lives, from our relationship failures, and familial triumphs, to our moments of despair and instances of pure joy; for our good and His glory; is what is needed for us to hopefully trust God more than we may care to admit. But by longing to see what the stars see, we long to have a bigger picture than what we’re getting in front of us, and maybe that’ll help us in our own journeys through life, maybe it won’t. But what this song shows us, is this longing people generally have, to want to believe that what we’re doing on this earth isn’t going to waste. Even our relationships. Or as Cassadee herself says, ‘…I was inspired to write ‘What The Stars See’ after sitting outside one night looking up at the stars, curious what their perspective might be looking down on us. It made me think back to times in my life when I had just come out of a relationship but still felt so connected to the other person. I imagined having the superpower to be among the stars and observe, from their perspective, an ex moving on with their life (or not)…’
In July, Cassadee released her second single from Thrive– ‘Say it First’, and according to the official press release, it ‘…explores the uncomfortable, yet necessary, step in ending a relationship by being the one to verbalize that it is over. The raucous track is reflective of Pope’s musical evolution – blending the nostalgic pop-punk sounds from her early career and the Country storytelling where she has grown as a writer and performer…’ Ending a relationship of any kind can be hard, especially romantic ones. For a relationship to die (gruesome words to describe a relationship ending!), someone has to verbalise it out loud that it has ended, no matter how hard it can be to even say it. Sometimes we want to hold onto something idealistic about a certain situation or person, when in fact, what we’re really doing is crippling ourselves so that we are reminiscing about the past and wishing we were there, rather than looking toward the future and the many possibilities that are presented. ‘Say It First’ is a song about biting the bullet, albeit; a bullet that can be a bitter pill in the short-term. To say that something has ended is to say something doesn’t have any chance at being revived, and that in and of itself can lead to a mourning period. Perhaps ‘Say It First’ is a song that is much needed for people who are breaking up in a romantic sense as it is needed for people who are going through something similar with friendships ending too? Maybe that’s how I can relate to a song like this- in my own life, friendships are changing, and there’s a few where I may have to even revisit, and even have to put aside for a while and let the friendship ‘die’ for now, mainly because people drift apart and just generally move away. The ending of something is always hard, no matter how we tend to spin it. Maybe ‘Say It First’ can give us resolve and motivation to just rip off the Band-Aid quickly and state relationships for what they really are, rather than to prolong in the hope that things may go back to what it once was? A song that is definitely bittersweet, no matter how we slice it, this is one of Cassadee’s most emotive songs to date, and a great way to introduce rock to what is looking like her most musically challenging (and maybe even rewarding) album release to date. Fusing together rock and country can either turn out really good, or just ear-piercing and not in a good way. Cassadee’s previous ‘life’ as Hey Monday’s lead vocalist has really come into play on both ‘Say it First’ and ‘What the Stars See’, and fans of both her solo and band material in the past, can rest assured, that Thrive, where it stands right now, could be one of country music’s (and pop-punk) most underrated by the time 2021 ends in about a month and a half!
‘…’Say It First’ is a song I wrote about how tough of a position it is to be the one to end a relationship when you both know it’s already over. Being the ‘bad guy’ just because you said what you both were thinking comes with the territory. But not saying anything just isn’t an option. I love the nostalgic approach with the production and how it feels angsty but still vulnerable… I wanted the lyric video for “Say It First” to really capture the conflict of remembering the fire you’ve had with this person in the past; but feeling so alone in the rain in the present. I love the chaotic movement of the lyrics on the screen because it’s truly an emotional rollercoaster when you decide to end a relationship. Ed Pryor always knows how to bring a lyric to life and I’m so glad to be working with him again…’
Throughout the rest of the album, we see Cassadee continue to fuse country and pop-punk together and deliver heartfelt and meaningful songs that are very much needed in this testing and volatile time of 2021. ‘Same Old Brand New Me’ is the first song from Thrive, and a track that is as much self-reflective as it is reminiscent of both pop-punk (a la Stellar Kart or Avril Lavigne) and country (akin to that of Lady A or Lauren Alaina) at the same time…and that is a good thing indeed. In the song Cassadee states that ‘…no matter where I go or where I’ve been, I know my soul beyond my skin, wherever it takes me, I know it won’t break me, cause I’ll always be the same old brand new me…’, a reminder for each of us that no matter what happens in our lives, when we have the core values in our lives in tact, we can rest assured that we won’t really change, even though the circumstances around our lives do. Yes, Cassadee has changed her musical sound from country to incorporate pop-punk…but she’s still the same person she’s always been. Writing songs with heart and intentionality, with purpose, encouragement, and hopefulness, and that shouldn’t really change. ‘Same Old Brand New Me’ is a reminder for each of us to ponder within ourselves- what are our core values and ethics? And what are we willing to change with the seasons, and what are we willing to stand firm in? ‘Tomorrow Night’, another song that was released as a pre-release song before the unveiling of Thrive, speaks about a new relationship, and how the persona longs to skip the beginning bits because they are invested in the relationship from the get-go- it speaks to the people that want to jump all-in into things, especially relationships. While on the surface the song can seemingly be a little fun and harmless, I often wonder what repercussions people could endure if they jump into something too soon. I know there are times in my own life where I’ve wanted things to happen in my own timing and wanted things to occur at faster rates than what was happening at that time. But even though I may want things to come to fruition in a faster time period, I do know now (as I’ve always known) that God’s timing is far more satisfying than even my own.
‘Break Too’ speaks about breakups, and how people can often pick sides and say that one side is a fault and the other is totally blameless. But regardless of who did the breaking, and whose heart was broken first, it doesn’t mean that one side is completely innocent, and their heart is breaking, and the other side is completely callous, and their heart is cold. Breakups are messy, and it can even be mutual. Both sides will have their hearts hurt in the subsequent aftermath, and this song can hopefully allow us to view things from the other person’s POV, especially breakups and what other people could be feeling, apart from you. ‘Thrive’ the title track seems to compliment ‘Break Too’- the former speaks of how breakups can be messy and people can often fall apart after a breakup, but ‘Thrive’ speaks of how removing toxic baggage that comes with stifling relationships, can be freedom for people who were merely surviving before in unstable and volatile relationships, but are now thriving without the person there. ‘Just a Girl’ delves into the drama that comes with ‘other women’ and ‘homewreckers’; and speaks from the POV of the girlfriend in the relationship, being secure in what she has, and warning the other girl that their pursuits of this guy will ultimately end in futility. ‘Just a Girl’ is a reminder for each of us, to get our relationships in order, to make sure that our significant others know that we are committed- so that the relationship can withstand whatever comes.
‘Mind Your Own’ is arguably one of the most ‘heavy’ songs on the album, and reminds me of a similar-themed Sara Bareilles song from back in the day- ‘King of Anything’. In that track, Sara speaks of how people just want to comment and speak into other people’s lives, even if the advice is unwarranted. It’s a reminder that people generally are busy-bodies, always wanting to be ‘fruit inspectors’ and pick apart other people’s lives, when really they should look at themselves and see what they need to work on. What things in their own lives are in the way of being a kind and loving person to their neighbour? ‘Mind Your Own’ speaks about this issue, something that has divided the world since day dot- at what point do you speak your mind when you see something that you’re uncomfortable with, and at what point do you have to let it lie; and focus on yourself rather than always criticising and critiquing the other person. Cassadee herself says it best- ‘…I’m saying a lot that I feel like I’ve said on social media, but I’ve never said in a song. So I’m definitely solidifying my stance on some things as far as my views, and my fundamental values, and what I believe in. So there’s a song called “Mind Your Own” on the record that I wrote with Nick, that’s just about people who judge people’s lifestyles when they just should, if they were happy, they would mind their own business. That’s the hook of the song…’ ‘Some People’ has the instrumentation of a pop-punk song and the lyricism of a country melody, as we see Cassadee speak about people changing, and turning around their lives for the better…but then realising that ‘some people’ doesn’t apply to this person she is singing to. Are there some people in the world that are far beyond redemption? I dunno, I hope and pray that people are given the opportunity for redemption, but maybe there are just cases where we as mere humans can’t forgive, even if God Himself does. ‘Remedy’ is a song that could easily succeed on K-Love (just change a few ‘babys’ to ‘Jesus’ or ‘God’…and that is the unfortunate truth), as Cassadee delivers arguably one of the most inspirational songs that isn’t explicitly CCM…and that could be saying a whole lot more about CCM than we can care to admit. Cassadee delivers this song with such grace and truth, and the lyrics remain so true- there is a person who is the remedy to our situations in our time of need, and His name is Jesus. Sure, the song is speaking about significant others, but I can totally see this song thriving (see this pun!) on CCM radio, albeit with a few word changes to make it ‘fit’.
The album then rounds out with ‘Sis’ and ‘No Now’. ‘Sis’ is a song about familial relationships, and how no matter what happens in the lives of siblings, the bond that occurs between family members (and in particular between two sisters, and between two brothers) is too sturdy and too grounded to even break. A reminder to cultivate our own relationships with our family (and in particular our siblings), ‘Sis’ then leads into ‘No Now’, an all-acoustic song to finish the album Thrive. Raw, honest, emotive, and compelling, ‘No Now’ speaks about how someone reconciles their innocence being taken away at a young age, to relationship issues they may be having that could be stemming from this one experience that they wouldn’t even have wished it on their own enemy. We read the lyrics of the song, and we know what it is talking about- the same subject matter in ‘make you’ on Lindsay Ell’s album heart theory. While the sensitive topic being in song format can often seem pretty taboo, what Cassadee and Lindsay have both done is to face their own demons; and have even opened old wounds to write such songs. And while I can never really demand someone to relive hurts and wounds for the sake of a song, what these two artists have accomplished is nothing short of remarkable- through both ‘No Now’ and ‘make you’, healing has taken place, not only in the lives of both country singers, but maybe in the lives of people listening around the world. Kudos to Cassadee for ‘No Now’, a raw and intimate song about something intimate, that shouldn’t have happened when it did.
‘…I feel the most like myself than I’ve ever felt. And it’s really one of the first projects, and it kind of was like this for my album last year, Rise and Shine, where it’s just acoustic, and I just put it out because it just felt like the right time for something like that. But this is the first project where I’m really going into it without trying to… I have goals in mind. I would love to continue to grow my touring crowd and play bigger venues, but other than that, I’m not going for country radio. I’m not going for awards recognition. I’m just doing a project that I think is totally and completely me. If anything, I learned last year it was that I needed to just be myself.
And yeah, in any industry you get people who try and make you be something you’re not. And for me coming to this town a few years ago, I had really solidified myself in the rock world. So I was trying to prove to everybody that I am a country artist. I went full that direction, and sometimes was told to really hide the rock edgy side of myself to prove that. So, I’ve really had to unlearn that over the years. It kind of sticks on you even after you get off the label; or break up with a team that you were with for a long time. But I think I’ve landed in a spot where I realized it doesn’t matter if I’m in Nashville, LA, New York, I still have to just do what’s authentic to me. And so far, it seems to be speaking to people. My fans are digging it because they know this is who I am, and I can’t fool them. I never have. And so, it feels good. It feels like I’m stepping into a lane that I can really sell and not have to try so hard. It’s cool…’
Cassadee has delivered one stellar album, and again, one that really took me by surprise, in a good way. While there will be some people that can’t look past the expletive material in the song ‘Sis’, that’s just one little ‘hiccup’ (if you can even call it that) in a 13-track album full of gut-punching material that speaks about themes and messages prominent and relevant to the heart of someone living in 2021 at this current moment. There’re songs about hope and redemption (‘Remedy’), songs about longing to see things from a more holistic view (‘What the Stars See’), and even others about ending chapters and saying things out loud so that there’s a sense of finality to them (‘Say it First’). Cassadee’s fusion of creating an album of both country and pop-punk may seem a little inconceivable at first, but the album works. It may not necessarily gain award attention. And maybe that’s the point. An album doesn’t have to win the major awards for it to be good. In fact, it could win no awards, and still impact and influence, just as much as an album by another artist that has won so many. Cassadee’s new album is definitely a gem in a goldmine, and a reminder that it’s ok to not fit into the norm of what the music industry says. I’m sure no one really expected the fusion of pop-punk and country to even work. And yet it does. Tremendously good. Well done Cassadee for this album, definitely one that I’ll be listening to again and again, in the upcoming weeks and months ahead!
4 songs to listen to: Say It First, Same Old Brand New Me, Mind Your Own, Remedy
RIYL: Little Big Town, Lindsay Ell, Goo Goo Dolls, Stellar Kart, Avril Lavigne