“I’ve always been a go-getter, there’s truth in every word I write,” sings Alessia Cara on her second album’s opening song (and almost title track), ‘Growing Pains’. It’s a couplet that neatly sums up the 22-year-old’s journey from posting cover versions recorded in her suburban Toronto bedroom on YouTube to placing four songs in the US Top 10 and winning Best New Artist at The Grammys.
Cara broke through with 2015’s ‘Here’, a super-relatable song about feeling out of place at a teenage party, and ‘The Pains Of Growing’ reaffirms her status as pop’s gawky, thoughtful, sort-of-outsider. ‘7 Days’ finds her wondering what God makes of what she calls “anti-social media”, an idea that might feel crass if it weren’t for her own testing experiences with Twitter and Instagram. She faced a pretty grisly backlash after winning her Grammy in January, and this week (briefly) quit social media following a fresh onslaught of trolling. ‘Wherever I Am’ initially seems like a slightly clichéd life-on-the-road-is-lonely song, until Cara delivers a killer couplet that captures the glamour-free grind of living from hotel room to hotel room: “And this toilet’s rusted / Food came, but I don’t trust it.”
Elsewhere, Cara sings about love, break-ups and fumbling towards self-acceptance as her music bounces between salty pop-R&B (‘Growing Pains’, ‘7 Days’), Winehouse-esque retro-pop (‘Not Today’, ‘Comfortable’), and stripped-down acoustic tunes (‘I Don’t Want To’, ‘A Little More’). There are moments where she reaches further than she did on 2015’s debut album ‘Know-It-All’: ‘Trust My Lonely’ edges into pop-reggae territory, while ‘All We Know’ finds her trying to make sense of the world over swirling, The xx-style guitars. Equally affecting is ‘Out Of Love’, a big, sad ballad co-written with Lana Del Rey collaborator Rick Nowels.
It all adds up to another gripping listen from an artist it’s difficult not to root for. Perhaps the most revealing song is ‘Girl Next Door’, on which Cara shows herself to be both self-deprecating and determined. “I’m not Bowie, Prince or Queen, but at least I do what I dream,” she sings defiantly, presumably with an eye on those online haters, while vowing on the chorus: “You won’t forget this girl next door.” On the evidence of this impressive and winningly authentic second album, Cara is increasingly unforgettable.