Preview and buy the album here.
“I never thought that you and I would ever meet again.” That’s the lead-off lyric on the lead-off track to the powerful new “debut” album from one Skylar Grey. Her fans may have been uttering the same sentence in anticipation of this release but, then again, there is no denying this immense talent. We must qualify “debut” because Skylar Grey is none other than Holly Brook (real name Holly Brook Hafermann) who grew up in Mazomanie, has been singing since the age of three, appeared on recordings with her mother Candace Krietlow in a folk duo called Generations and released several recordings under the name Holly Brook. She’s also made television appearances with Fort Minor (to name one), and co-written songs for Eminem who executive produced this recording (you can read more about Skylar Grey here). Not bad for a youngster who grew up covering Joni Mitchell songs and liked to skate on the lake near her Mazomanie home.
Don’t Look Down at first blush might sound like a plethora of pop artists out there who have mediocre talent but are buoyed by a sea of corporate investors and hot-shot producers. Granted, Don’t Look Down has a slew of co-writing credits and the production (by Alex Da Kid and Jonathan Rotem) is absolutely top-notch. But underneath all the sheen you can hear Grey’s singular voice and imagine how these songs evolved from a single instrument as is no doubt the case. To question Grey’s veracity would be a gross miscalculation. This music is explicit, edgy as hell, and Holly Brook Hafermann has lived every inch of it.
There are some stunning hooks throughout the album and every track is a winner with the vocals being the absolute center of attention. The enormously talented supporting musicians never get in the way of this while infusing the songs with smart hipness. Grey is not one to sugarcoat her feelings and the album drops a lot of f-bombs so buyer beware if you’re listening to the explicit version. Even if you are offended by that maybe you should put aside your pussyness and take a taste of real life.
“Back from the Dead” kicks the album off with an explosive entry and cameos by Big Sean and Travis Barker. This is followed by what is perhaps the best track on the album, “Final Warning.” Check out the video for this intense take on a failed relationship: http://youtu.be/ToOFtvvFGGo
“Wear Me Out” may or may not be directed at her mother but it’s a powerful statement of individuality. “C’mon Let Me Ride” may be the most questionable track, going to the pop extreme. But it’s also a parody of pop and few seem to have gotten the joke. The song features a pretty hilarious machochismo rap by none other than Eminem. “Shit, Man” features Angel Haze and tells the story of an unexpected pregnancy. “White Suburban” stands out as the album closer. It shuns all the heavy production and plays like a torch balled. Grey laments the memory of her first love, mourning that “The first won’t happen twice.”
If you want further proof that these songs can stand up in a solo performance check out Grey’s follow-up EP iTunes Sessions where she performs several of these tracks in an unplugged setting (read the review here). That recording, as well as this one, are simply mesmerizing.
Rolling Stone recently demonstrated their hypocrisy (once again!) by dissing Grey in a review. While they glamorize more flagrantly offensive music by 50 Cent and, yes, Eminem, they write Grey off as a “potty mouth.” That was a mistake but may be a blessing in disguise for Grey who will no doubt use that review as fuel for her fire. To understand her is to understand the utter tenacity with which she has lived her life thus far – a few years yet short of thirty. The sheer guts, courage and perseverance she displays on Don’t Look Back are staggering. Like the magazine’s dismissal of Led Zeppelin on arrival, they are sure to live this one down, too.