Selena Gomez co-credits her full-length debut to a band called the Scene, but let’s get this out of the way up front: On Kiss & Tell, Gomez sounds no more like a bandleader than Tiffany did when she was singing to taped tracks during her mall tour. This is a thoroughly airtight pop album, one whose instrumental bits sound like they weren’t performed so much as poured into a series of seamlessly interlocking molds, with the whole thing wrapped in a thick sheet of brightly colored vinyl. It’s Disney pop for Disney kids, in other words, with Gomez being positioned as the third leg of the teen girl-pop trinity they started with Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato, and sparking several thousand adorable little flamewars between the singers’ loyal fans.
Of course, unless you’re one of those loyal fans, you probably can’t hear much of a difference between Cyrus, Lovato, and Gomez; it probably all sounds like one horrible teenybopper din. So I’ll break it down for you: Miley is the queen bee, with solid if unspectacular vocal chops and access to all the best producers and songwriters and the ability to flit, hummingbird-like, from one pop subgenre to the next — she’s sort of a barely pubescent, artistically bankrupt 21st-century version of Madonna. Demi is the Jo Polniaczek of the label — she might look kind of dangerous in the context of her surroundings, but it’s just a front. And then there’s Selena, whose bouncy, vapid pop songs make her either Belinda Carlisle or Tootie Ramsey, depending on which of my ridiculous analogies you prefer.
Actually, erstwhile Go-Go Gina Schock contributed heavily to the album, so the Carlisle comparison is probably the more apt of the two — which isn’t a bad thing, really; I always had a soft spot for Belinda, particularly during her blonder, more cocaine-y period, and even though nothing here is as irresistible as “Mad About You,” Gomez has the button-cute looks and girl-next-door vocals to get at least as far as, I don’t know, “Leave a Light On.”
She doesn’t quite get there on Kiss & Tell, but as teen pop records go, it really isn’t bad. The Scene might not sound like a real band, but these songs do at least have a modicum of live energy, which is more than we’ve been conditioned to hope for from albums like this, and while she isn’t as natural-sounding a singer as Lovato, Gomez has stronger vocal chops than, say, Hilary Duff. The result is 13 songs of spunky pop songs with the level of musical savvy that only comes from hiring an army of middle-aged songwriters — all of it sort of anonymous, but far less than you’d expect given that a year ago, Gomez was showing up in music videos slapped onto the ass end of Disney direct-to-video movies. She actually sounds like an artist in progress rather than a marketing gambit, and even if Disney looks at her more as the latter than the former, that doesn’t make Kiss & Tell any less charmingly innocuous. And hey, she’s only 17 — “charmingly innocuous” is about all any of us can hope for at that age, isn’t it?
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