In 2013, Democratic Texas State Representative Wendy Davis famously spent 11 hours talking on the senate floor. Senate Bill 5, which aimed to eliminate certain reproductive rights for women, was passing through, and Davis—an avowed opponent—had only one choice to obstruct its progress: keep speaking until the session expires. And so, she did. She shared messages from Texas doctors and stories from women the bill might have affected until, nearly a day later, she told the Associated Press, "I don't have a lot of words left."

Confident, Demi Lovato's fifth studio album, functions similarly (albeit, less successfully): She's spoken declaratively about her aim—to do away with her old self—but the subsequent case she makes is a little confused, shows signs of exhaustion and seems borrowed from stock affirmations. And, in the event you disagree, it's of no concern to her—she'll continue to say it's so, over and over, until you're too worn out to argue against the audio-filibuster.

Since the release of "Cool for the Summer" in July, Demi's made the mission of her fifth studio album clear: level the skyscrapers, detain the warriors and usher in a new, sexified star who's comfortable writhing around a bed in fluorescent underwear. Unfortunately, the reroute is pretty much doomed from the start, as Confident's first and eponymous track begs: "What's wrong with being confident?" Well, in this case, a whole lot.

Lovato, whose contemporary success is uniquely built on ballads, belts and a connective thread of resolution, uses the lead track to map her path to new frontiers. But after a few concerted steps, she seems a little lost, and "Old Ways" continues to throw her compass out of whack. "And I just keep changin'/ These colors, colors, colors, colors / I'm not in the same place / That I was, I was, I was, I was," she insists over production that, conversely, seems a little trite—Tinashe and JoJo have already been here. The song's painted with 2015's pop palette, and when Demi's got the brush, it just dries gray. Still, to ensure all's not lost, she turns to her signature wails by the song's end to remind us she's still got pipes.

And that's sort of how the album progresses—Lovato will test the waters of a divergent landscape, but when she fears she's become too much of something else, she'll withdraw and pull an old trick out of her hat. So, we're left with a noncommittal middle ground, and nowhere is that more evident than "Wildfire," a song that speaks to explosions and infernos with the sonic intensity of a flickering candle. "Baby tell me where you wanna run, run / Cause I’ve been burning like the morning sun / Take my hand, you can burn this city with me," she sleepily poses, before offering some pro technique at the buzzer. "Yes," an updated page from Natasha Bedingfield's book, does something similarly uninspired before an exceptional, rescuing final minute.

Any chance she finds strength in numbers? Not so much. Let's just say it: Iggy Azalea collaboration "Kingdom Come" is "Black Widow" Part II, give or take a few more impressive bars of vocal prowess. And while "Waitin' For You," which features Sirah, might talk a big talk ("This song shows a side of me that I've never shown before, and that's 'Don't mess with me,'" Demi explained to The Sun), it is so, so sleepy. Plus, in the event you haven't heard, Demi's changed, and she's still dedicated to telling you as much. "Knuckles out / And the guard in my mouth / When you're hungry for the next round / I'll be waitin' for you," she warns.

Strangely enough, it's the moments when Lovato completely invests in her enduring sound—the one she seemed so eager to mute—that are most remarkable. "Lionheart," which could have earned a starring bill on Unbroken or Demi, is buried in Confident's basement, but is easily its shining treasure. Featuring more than a few dramatic swells, it's right in the singer's sweet spot, but still gives her the chance to experiment with tone. The best of the old and the best of the new: It could have been the model—instead, it's the exception.

Thankfully, it's got the support of "Father," too, a powerful, take-me-there storm surge performed in memory of Lovato's dad, who struggled to cope with mental health issues before dying of cancer in 2013. It's perfectly desperate and beautifully urgent, but, again, sadly part of Confident's anomaly. "Stone Cold" is almost there, too, but sounds too much like a shaky offshoot of Lady Gaga's "Dope" to firmly plant its own feet.

A long-winded pop career is unusual—enduring renown rests on the very difficult task of staying abreast of trends while also offering something consumers can't get elsewhere. Lovato's quest to jump more concertedly into her peers' arena is understandable, but, with Confident, she's unarmed—her preferred weaponry is missing. So, where she could have done damage, she's simply hoping to survive long enough for the crowd to notice her skulking between the battlefield's more interesting duels. "Cool for the Summer" is fun, and deserved more praise than it got. But longtime Lovato fans deserved more than what came next.


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