The first five songs would make for a good EP. Flawed but good. Flawed because (1) the verses of “Be Alright” are a write-off, the song mostly exists for the future garage-ish male vocals bouncing around in the chorus (which, in combination with the marimba colouring, recalls second-tier Jamie xx) and because (2) Nicki Minaj doesn’t even try on the groovy “Side to Side” (whereas she brought “Bang Bang” to climax); nonsense like “If you wanna Minaj, I got a tricycle” (worth repeating, right?) actively frustrates me because I know she can do better. But, the first five songs also includes the two best songs on the album – both, unsurprisingly, produced by Max Martin (responsible for the riotous “Problem” from My Everything, in addition the majority of 1989). The first is the title track, which is a whirlwind of melody and harmony, with some electric guitar for the people not turned enough by how the song actively, actually makes you want to be a dangerous woman. No shit, every line here connects, melodically speaking, and the way Ariana Grande runs through “I wanna savor, save it for later / the taste, the flavor / Cause I’m a taker, cause I’m a giver / It’s only nature, I live for danger” is something to behold, to say nothing of the harmonies she brings to the table in later choruses – floating high and above the main melody. Likely the best display of her vocal range. “Into You”, on the other hand, is mostly its choruses, but they’re a delight. Even better than “Into You” is the real surprise of the album: “Moonlight,” which I can’t believe Pitchfork’s review just steamrolled over – it’s the most evocative track in her discography so far (those plucked violins!), and the evocation of the 50s, in combination with the future garage of “Be Alright” and ska of “Side to Side”, demonstrates a musical variety that was sorely lacking in her previous albums.
After that…? Aside from the punchy horns of “Greedy” and the choruses of “Bad Decisions” (both are unsurprisingly more Max Martin productions), the rest of this album doesn’t interest me. She still has a penchant for hiring big-name rappers that mix like water/oil with her and her aesthetic: while Big Sean on My Everything’s “Best Mistake” was understandable (not forgivable) because they were together at the time, Lil Wayne’s “Grinding on that Grande” line is the least of our worries from his verse on “Let Me Love You.” Meanwhile, stuff like the Future collaboration and “Sometimes” (which brings out an acoustic) are generic (not to mention the turn-off of a hook like “He give me that good shit”).
Ah well. To call her a singles act would be redundant, but this one has a few good songs that likely won’t get the time of day as singles (“Moonlight”), so it’s her best album at this point. Asks you to take it less Seriously than does the newest Beyonce album, so it’s probably better than that one too.