Kelsea Ballerini blasted onto the Country music scene in 2014 with her debut single Love Me Like You Mean It, the first of a string of number one songs. The parent album The First Time introduced the singer-songwriter as a new pop/Country force and paved the way for 2017 follow-up Unapologetically, which helped Kelsea continue her ascent. Further forays into pop with The Chainsmokers on This Feeling in 2018 and John K on If We Never Met earlier this year have seemingly influenced Kelsea’s decision to fully embrace pop for her third album, the self-titled lowercase stylised kelsea.
kelsea’s lead single homecoming queen? gave hope that Kelsea would be returning to the more Country sound of The First Time but the song is a bit of a misnomer when you listen to the new album all the way through. The beat-driven opener overshare and the buzz single club are much more indicative of what you can expect from the singer-songwriter’s third album. All of the songs, apart from one, come in around the 3-minute mark and the cynic in me could suggest that’s to maximise the chance of radio play given that the format is leaning towards shorter songs blaming the attention span of the listeners.
I’m not a genre purist by any means but to my ears this is a straight-up pop record with nothing more than a sprinkling of Country. hole in the bottle, which opens with an old PSA warning people about the dangers of drinking too much, and the song ends up being one of the most Country on the album, albeit with processed beats and pop production. For the most part here, Kelsea has her on the crossover appeal teaming up with Halsey on the atmospheric beat-driven the other girl – a clear future single – and channel’s Ellie Goulding’s Love Me Like You Do on the similar-sounding love me like a girl.
The obligatory Ed Sheeran co-write (seriously he’s on every Country album these days!) comes on love and hate, one of the album’s more forgettable moments, while the grittier bragger incorporates a shimmering guitar riff with a retro-sounding pop chorus where Kelsea spits lyrics in an R&B style. Kenny Chesney is wasted on half of my hometown where he essentially sings back up but the collaboration is likely to get pick up on Country radio.
Towards the end of the record the stronger songs, for me any way, come. the way i used to is a fun pop/R&B moment while needy is a 90s throwback that makes you realise what the whole album could have sounded like had she embraced that direction instead. The ironically titled a country song lists off all the things that the genre typically includes while sounding not in the slightest bit Country. The album closes with la, which is the most interesting song lyrically that Kelsea offers up here. It’s a battle between anxiety and desire, and it’ll be relatable to a lot of her younger listeners.
Having been a big champion of Kelsea Ballerini since 2014, I find myself somewhat disappointed with kelsea. The pop fan side of me appreciates the crossover appeal of the record and there are some nice moments here. The country critic side of me wishes this album were the return to a more Country sound that Kelsea had teased in the run-up to its release. kelsea will undoubtedly help expand Kelsea’s reach, which I guess is the ultimate goal, but for me it’s the weakest of her album releases to date.
Track list: 1. overshare 2. club 3. homecoming queen? 4. the other girl (with Halsey) 5. love me like a girl 6. love and hate 7. bragger 8. hole in the bottle 9. half of my hometown (feat. Kenny Chesney) 10. the way i used to 11. needy 12. a country song 13. la Record label: Black River Entertainment Release date: 20th March 2020 Buy kelsea