Ariana Grande released her new album on Friday, and while it’s been broadly welcomed by critics, most agree the singer does not break any new ground.
The 27-year-old’s sixth album Positions is an upbeat affair, and sees her celebrating her new relationship with estate agent Dalton Gomez.
Several outlets, including The Evening Standard, The Telegraph and The Independent, awarded it three stars.
NME said the album “lacks the megawatt pop belters of previous releases”.
Reviewer Hannah Mylrea said in her own three-star review: “As an introduction to the next era of Grande’s career, it’s solid, but you can’t help but feel it’s missing some of her trademark sparkle.”
The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis agreed, writing: “Positions deals in polished professionalism, not pulse-quickening excitement.
“There isn’t an obvious standout track, nor is it the teeming smorgasbord of potential singles that constituted [her last album] Thank U, Next.
“Combined with the languorous pace at which Positions proceeds, the overall effect is of individual tracks bleeding into one long slow-motion shot.”
Grande is credited as a songwriter on all 14 tracks, while other contributors include Ryan Tedder and her long-term writing partner Victoria Monet.
“Positions is a loved-up wallow in every aspect of a newish serious relationship, from relaxed domesticity to worries about whether this one can really last, to extraordinary quantities of sex,” said David Smyth of The Evening Standard.
“Grande’s voice is a thing of great beauty, swooping and fluttering above a plush musical backdrop that’s dominated by violins and cellos this time.”
But while praising the vocals and the musical arrangements, he said the lyrical content left much to be desired.
“It’s often said that such a talent could sing the phone book and make it sound beautiful. Grande gives it a good go, rarely attempting to explore her situation in poetic terms.”
Several critics noted that Positions is the raunchiest musical offering of Grande’s career. The album and lead single’s title, coupled with songs such as 34+35 leave little doubt about what Grande is singing about.
“Ariana has one thing on her mind: sex. So much sex,” wrote Alim Kheraj of i-D. “The subsequent 13 tracks are some of the horniest songs that Ariana has ever released.
“All this romantic romping might be too much for some, especially given that we’re however many months into a pandemic that, for many of us, has put a pause on any amorous or intimate activities.”
The Telegraph’s Kate Solomon said: “Positions is not as immediate as the work Grande is known for, though it will find many fans.
“There are no tentpole hits, no obvious hooks and far too many words crammed into 14 relatively short and sometimes samey songs. But it explores new territory for the singer: new relationships, a new sound, a new sense of self.”
Grande’s previous two albums were both released after she had experienced high-profile personal tragedies.
Sweetener, released in 2018, was her first album since a terrorist attack at one of her concerts in Manchester, while Thank U, Next followed the suicide of her former boyfriend Mac Miller.
The new album sees her on more upbeat form, exuding a greater sense of comfort and confidence.
“Positions is about emerging on the other side – the sort of pop psychology redemption arc that Grande’s young, emotionally clued-up fan base will delight in,” wrote The New Statesman’s Emily Bootle.
In one of the most positive reviews, Bottle said there were “no dud tracks” on the record.
“What makes this album so confident and mature is its overt, practised sense of individual identity,” she said. “Ariana Grande knows exactly what she’s doing, which is creating era-capturing music.”
The personal nature of the lyrics was praised by The Independent’s Adam White, who said the album “sometimes feels like listening in on somebody’s Voice Notes, as Grande speed-sings through her most intimate confessions”.
“It’s why Grande has always felt particularly sympathetic,” he continued. “A true work-in-progress open about her melancholies and misfires.
“She’s likeable and compelling as an artist, even when she’s at her most creatively static, settling on what is comfortable rather than anything slightly dangerous. Like all of us this year, she probably just needs to get out of the house more.
“Lockdown probably didn’t help in terms of collaborators, with Positions seemingly recorded at home or over Zoom, comfort zones fully stayed in. There’s a touch of Spotify syndrome here too, with songs kept short and succinct to benefit playlisting.”
The album features guest spots from Doja Cat, The Weeknd and Ty Dolla $ign. But for Alexa Camp of Slant, it did not offer enough new ideas or innovation.
“Too many of the songs on Positions rely on the same mid-tempo trap-pop that populated Grande’s previous two efforts, particularly Thank U, Next,” she wrote.
“What once seemed refreshing in its minimalism is quickly starting to feel insubstantial. It might be time for contemporary pop’s reigning vocal acrobat to more fully commit to some new positions.”