"I'm over the limit. What is the limit, really?" (Natalia Kills, "Boy's Don't Cry")
If the recent onslaught of new pop has left you with a taste for wanting more, make sure to check out a few other pop records that were released in recent months and easily rank among the year's best. Most notably, Natalia Kills' new album Trouble is an accomplished new effort that will surprise you in all the right ways.
Instead of opting to go safe and pound out a club-ready record full of dance-pop bangers, Kills went against the grain and decided to record an album that's lyrically compelling and sonically fresh. Trouble is a forward-thinking pop album that features the singer's unique point of view and an innovative pop sound that is distinctly different than much of what's out in the pop charts today.
Trouble follows Kills' 2011 pop opus Perfectionist that first introduced us to the singer's edgy brand of pop with its razor-sharp lyricism and provocative visual aesthetic that at times pushes the envelop yet is consistently tasteful.
Songs like "Mirrors," "Kill My Boyfriend" and especially "Wonderland" laid the foundation for the singer's overall lyrical theme about the quest for perfection. It's a journey that comes with struggle and frustration yet is totally worth pursuing. Some have labeled Kills' stark realism as dark pop, but I believe that the singer is ultimately an optimist who does not give up on the things she believes in.
On Trouble, Kills is an open book and explains in full detail what's at the root of her artistry by taking us though the life experiences that defined her. Written and recorded in collaboration with renowned producers Jeff Bhasker (Kanye West, Jay-Z, fun.) and Emile Haynie (Lana Del Rey, Kid Cudi, Eminem), Trouble reads like a page from a young girl's diary set to a gritty soundtrack of stomping percussion and hooky melodies with early 1980s new wave pop leanings.
Much of Kills' transparently raw storytelling on the album deals with her tumultuous upbringing. Raised by a Jamaican father and Uruguayan mother, Kills and her family were constantly moving from city to city, often shifting enigmatically between their luxury homes in the UK, Jamaica and Spain. Though her childhood seemed like a dream, it was warped by danger and luxury. Her father was a criminal who ended up in jail that left the rest of the family without any resources.
The album gets straight to the core of things on the opening track "Television" that is a song that takes listeners to the chaos of Natalia's childhood. Young Natalia tried to make sense of her bad situation by comparing her surroundings to scenes on television that served both as an escape and justification. "When your father's on the bottle/And your mother's on the floor/Got the whole town looking through our window," she sings. "Cause men will fight/And girls will lie/Just like on the television."
Kills gets into more detail on "Saturday Night." It's one of the album's most pivotal songs that tells the story of Kills growing up with her abusive father and tearful mother who tried to do anything she could to keep the family together. "We lose ourselves, we lose it all," she poignantly sings. It's a very powerful story that explains the self-made qualities that drive Kills.
But despite the hardship her father caused, Kills doesn't turn away from him. "You messed up/You messed up bad/Rolled the dice on the life we had," she sings on the catchy "Daddy's Girl." I'll keep your secrets/I'll never tell/You know I'll ride with you right through the fire of hell."
Following a tale of teenage angst on the mid-tempo "Devils Don't Fly," Kills peppers Trouble with some proper fun as well - particularly on songs like the Gwen Stefani-esque "Rabbit Hole" and "Outta Time." The latter is a 1950's styled doo-wop tune that adds a light touch to the overall record. The album's title track closes out the set of 13 songs and is a bonafide radio hit to be.
In a pop world dominated by overprocessed beats and trivial storytelling, Natalia Kills bravely charts her own course. She is an original who delivers a cohesive collection of songs that is sonically compelling, intensely personal and is solid proof of the fact that pop music can be raw, rowdy and real. (Listen to Natalia Kills Trouble here or the download the entire album here.)