Brisk and breezy, Charlie Puth’s sophomoric album Voicenotes is a va-va-voom turning point in the talented musician’s career. No one’s trying to slow him down, but Mr. Puth lets himself take a moment to stop, look around, and take in where he’s at in his professional journey, his celebrity existence, and his personal life.
As a pop music/pop culture enthusiast, the author can assure you that Voicenotes is an outstanding improvement from the days of the unduly (and uncomfortably) sentimental “See You Again”, dueting with Meghan Trainor, and the inaccurately-named Nine Track Mind.
1. The Way I Am
A hard-hitting number to begin the album, you can feel Puth revving up his engine, about to cruise around and live life in the fast lane. With heavenly hit high notes and irresistible riffing and running, this opener perfectly sets the pace for the rest of the record. He shows up and announces himself, past flaws and all, forgives his former self and moves onwards, upwards and forward.
You already know it, love it, and replay it all the damn time. This song is a musically manifest little black dress. The super sexy bassline is so badass, and there might be no better songwriting material to narratively justify it than an extremely envious ex.
3. LA Girls
If the author can forgive the beginning’s ripoff of “The Real Slim Shady”, then the reader should do the same. The offence, like the song itself, isn’t totally serious. It might be a little bit silly, but it’s still loads of fun. Mr. Puth’s nostalgic, but it’s already too late. Guess the West Coast ain’t the best coast after all, especially when trying to fall in love or get over a former flame.
4. How Long
The question is not so much, ‘how long has this been going on’, but ‘how many notes can Mr. Puth fit into one syllable in his choruses?’ The author will happily stick around for the record’s entire forty-five minutes to find out the answer.
5. Done for Me (featuring Kehlani)
Mr. Puth’s previous duet with a female singer was a pretty pop song, albeit a little sleepy-sounding. This one, featuring the infinitely charismatic Kehlani, sounds a lot more present, active, and alluring. Also, it will help you set up a certain mood if need be.
For some people, a male pop singer grows from boy to man when he starts singing loudly, proudly and unapologetically about sex (see: Justin Timberlake, Nick Jonas, Zayn Malik). For the author, a true sign of maturity occurs when the star sings a story about romance with a level of vulnerable self-awareness, even when the memories aren’t glamorous and the road ahead doesn’t seem all that thrilling. ‘Patient‘ is Mr. Puth’s impressively honest attempt at loving and caring for someone else, while also understanding that that won’t be possible until he can provide that same level of generosity for himself first. He wants to get to a certain place of readiness to start and share something so real, but knows that he’s not there yet, and that won’t change overnight. It’ll take time. Mr. Puth stands up for himself without bringing the other person down. Love is in the air, but can you let it breathe and trust that it’ll stick around for the foreseeable future? (Also: have fun getting this melody out of your head!)
7. If You Leave Me Now (featuring Boyz II Men)
Yeah, you read that right. Here’s the thing: you know you’ve done something right when a Boyz II Men appearance on your album doesn’t feel wrong! The song seeps with sadness, softness, and desperation. When has a break-up ever sounded this beautiful?
So sweet, so sensitive, and so stylistically smart! Mr. Puth comes to the realization that he deserves to be treated better. (Cue in: Shawn Mendes to the rescue!) Sometimes, that discovery can be the most liberating thing in your love life. The chorus is Mr. Puth’s version of running down the streets and shouting from the rooftops about his self-worth. He’s not a little kid, so his babe better stop babying him around!
9. Slow It Down
This is part II to ‘Patient‘—but this one’s a bop! It’s exactly the kind of song I want to hear when while strutting my stuff into the club, or as I’m making out with that special someone in a locked room during a Friday night house party.
10. Change (featuring James Taylor)
This song is the equivalent of the necessary lull during conversation. It’s such a campfire tune. You know, with the perfunctory sentiment of songs like “Waiting on the World to Change.” (Speaking of which: the author would love to know the reader’s opinion on the latest from John Mayer.) You can listen to it once and then forever skip it when you put this album on shuffle. (Sorry, Mr. Taylor.)
11. Somebody Told Me
Oof. Well, when your heart breaks, what better way to heal than to belt it out? The lyrics come from a heavy heart, but the songwriting keeps the tune light with c’est-la-vie vibes.
12. Empty Cups*
Ah, yes. When that smudged lipstick is as red as those Solo cups all over the place. I love songs like this one: so perfect to play as you get ready to see someone, for a night that’s sure to be unforgettable and full of firsts. See also: DNCE’s “Toothbrush” and Ariana Grande’s “Into You.” The sexual suspense is so incredibly fleeting, and that makes these earworms all the more exciting.
13. Through It All*
Mr. Puth sends us off with a hallelujah for himself. This introspective and self-accepting album-ending song features wonderful, worldly-wise lyrics. Even though Mr. Puth is still relatively young at age 26, his self-assured songwriting has earned him this slow, bittersweet final number. I thought of The Arctic Monkeys’ “No. 1 Party Anthem” and Ari’s “My Everything”—but Charlie Puth’s “Through It All” is by him, about him, and for him. What a confident way to conclude something! It’s as though someone advised him to start learning more about who he is as a person and musician, and now he’s willing to share what he knows about himself with the rest of us. We are so ready to hear him out.
*An asterisk denotes author’s personal favourites
Image: Atlantic Records