Self-empowerment songs can often teeter the line between cathartic and cringey, and there is no greater modern example than Demi Lovato’s discography. A singer known for rallying the bruised and battered with her music, she has made a career of uplifting her fans to varying degrees of success — 2011’s “Skyscraper” continues to hold up a decade later, while 2020’s “I Love Me” has already been all but discarded from her musical canon. On her seventh album, the ridiculously (but appropriately) titled Dancing with the Devil … the Art of Starting Over, Lovato finally centers herself in the recovery narrative, and the material is all the better for it.
Chronically the singer’s journey from just prior to her 2018 overdose to the more stable present, the record is deeply autobiographical. The first three tracks — collectively noted as the album’s prelude — are certainly the hardest sequence to bear; opener “Anyone” is a plea for someone to save Lovato from her increasingly destructive tendencies, “Dancing with the Devil” details the singer in the midst of her addictions, and “ICU (Madison’s Lullaby)” is a tender ode to the sister she couldn’t recognize immediately following her hospitalization.
Second title track “The Art of Starting Over” is where the healing begins. Backed by production that is reminiscent of Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour-meets-California, the album delicately balances artistic growth with absolute boppage; for every “The Way You Don’t Look at Me” to get you in your feelings, there’s a “15 Minutes” to eviscerate an ex-lover. Ever the vocalist, the singer shows off her impressive belting on tracks like the Ariana Grande-assisted “Met Him Last Night” and “Easy,” a powerhouse duet with Noah Cyrus, while also displaying a softer technique on “The Kind of Lover I Am” and “My Girlfriends Are My Boyfriend,” featuring the ever entertaining Saweetie. At a bloated nineteen tracks, Dancing with the Devil … the Art of Starting Over is far from perfect, but that’s exactly the point Lovato is trying to make.
Standout tracks: “The Art of Starting Over,” “Met Him Last Night,” “Easy,” “California Sober”