Album Reviews

Ariana Grande – eternal sunshine

(Republic) UK release date: 8 March 2024

With the help of some lush musical accompaniment, the American chanteuse delivers an experiential scrapbook

Ariana Grande - Eternal Sunshine It is now over five years since the Ariana Grande song thank u, next took the world by storm – its lyrics were surprisingly frank and intimate at a time when the tabloids were fascinated by her love life, and in 2024 history is repeating itself somewhat. eternal sunshine’s lead single yes, and? presented a cool, unphased response to media commentary, but the rest of the record is made up of semi-autobiographical ruminations on love and loss aided by top-tier production courtesy of Max Martin and Ilya.

don’t wanna break up again is an early highlight, as Ariana negotiates the end of a relationship with some hints towards her ex’s bad behaviour (“I made it so easy / spent so much on therapy / blamed my own co-dependency / but you didn’t even try / when you finally did it was at the wrong time / won’t abandon me again / for you and I”). The bass knocks, the chords are sugary sweet and the vocal harmonies are enjoyably intricate on the song’s hook. Elsewhere a new romance is celebrated, the boy is mine featuring a breathy delivery and emphatic rallentando that allows one to picture the star of The SpongeBob Musical as some irresistible sex god, even if only for three minutes.

The Robyn-esque electro-pop stylings of we can’t be friends (wait for your love) are beguiling, but the introspective, nuanced lyrics really steal the show here. Ariana expresses ambivalence towards the negative coverage she’s been receiving recently, treating it as a storm to be weathered while she focuses on her own stability, and the swooping topline of the bridge is particularly powerful (“know that you made me / I don’t like how you paint me, yet I’m still here hanging / not what you made me / it’s something like a daydream, but I feel so seen in the night / so for now it’s only me / and maybe that’s all I need”).

eternal sunshine comes as a marked improvement on Ariana’s 2020 album Positions, for which a steady stream of contributors from the rap and R&B worlds provided tunes that were slick but hook-deficient. By contrast this album feels like a scrapbook of situations, emotions and styles, dabbling in campy deep house for yes, and?, vintage Timbaland arrangements on true story and something more abstract on the beatless i wish i hated you, as a sparkling synth ostinato repeats in an eight-quaver loop over the track’s 6/8 metre – much of the track relies on Ariana’s voice as a rhythmic anchor, as she mulls over the memory of a relationship in almost Swiftian fashion.

As if this song brought a much-needed sense of closure to the former relationship, the final two tracks on the album have a blissful aura to them. The trap percussion on imperfect for you is all that stops the song being a post-grunge ballad a la Goo Goo Dolls, with its crunchy chords perhaps being the work of Martin’s former bandmate Peter Kahm (who has a co-writing credit). ordinary things wraps things up with a relatively conventional R&B number about being infatuated with a new partner – in some ways reminiscent of 2018’s imagine, except this time the idealistic relationship being depicted might actually exist.

Ariana has been on a mini-hiatus for much of this decade, and the varied subject matter of the record reflects how much has happened in her world during this time. But eternal sunshine also represents a triumphant return to form, sophisticated pop music complementing her distinctive voice beautifully.

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