Album of the Week: Charlie Puth's 'Voicenotes'

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For many artists, a sophomore album is your chance to really prove yourself and flex your musical ability in the way you want — and with more eyes watching, there are higher expectations. That's exactly where Charlie Puth stands with his follow-up to 2016’s Nine Track Mind – except his sophomore album, Voicenotes, has already spawned the biggest solo hit of his career before its May 12 release.

The bass-heavy, feisty “Attention” (which hit No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 last August) introduced a saucier side of Puth, setting a more mature tone for what was to come with his next set. It was no false alarm: Voicenotes is a major step up from Puth's squeaky-clean beginnings.

From the variety of musical flavors to no-holds-barred lyricism, there are several layers to Puth’s second LP, and the same can be said for his production. While he’s always had a hand in producing his records, Puth’s abilities shine brighter than before on Voicenotes, with every song including layered sounds whether they’re upbeat or heartfelt.

The album opens with a prime example, “The Way I Am,” which sees electric guitar intermixed with a wavy beat as Puth declares “you can either hate me or love me, that’s just the way I am.” That kind of confidence carries into the next few tracks, including “Attention” and its regret-filled, super-catchy follow-up “How Long.” In between is a funky lovelorn tale titled “LA Girls” that features punchy beats reminiscent of a ‘90s hip-hop track, with lyrics that also show he’s not afraid to get real (“I don’t want this to be the way you remember me/ ‘Cuz I know I was wrong, wrong,” he admits).

Puth’s rawness is one of the best parts of Voicenotes, especially because it’s presented in both earnest and rebellious ways. The ballads of the bunch (“Patient,” “If You Leave Me Now” and “Change”) give his smooth voice and vulnerability room to breathe, with more scandalous songs like “Empty Cups” balancing out the sweetness with a little lyrical zest: “You wanna go upstairs but you don’t wanna sleep/ Oh right now we’re in a rhythm/ Your boyfriend’s no competition/ Turn off your phone and blame it on your battery.”

What’s more, Puth’s picks for collaborators are a perfect depiction of his boldness on his second album, recruiting vintage and new R&B stars Boyz II Men and Kehlani, respectively, as well as folk-rock star James Taylor – all of whom display Puth’s decades-spanning versatility. And though “Slow It Down” co-writers Daryl Hall and John Oates – yes, the Hall & Oates – don’t sing on their Voicenotes contribution, you can certainly hear their influence in the song's synthy ‘80s beat.

Puth closes out the album with a piano-driven serenade titled “Through It All,” a departure from the heavier production, likely to give the track's poignant lyrics the spotlight. “Growing up in this wild city you had to fight or run/ Now you know why I’m not afraid/ Maybe it’s my recklessness that got me in trouble/ But at least I did it all my way,” he sings on the song's second verse, a compelling statement of both self-realization and satisfaction that helps bring a sense of closure to the album's fearless sentiment.

The way Puth was able to put together a 13-song album that shows growth, adaptability and talent (both vocally and production-wise) makes it seem like he's in this for the long haul. Even if Puth is nervous with how Nine Track Mind’s follow-up will be perceived, he’s put his best foot forward with an entire album’s worth of songs both catchy and sincere – turning the potential for sophomore slump into a sophomore triumph.