Duration: 26 min 9 sec
Best Tracks: t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l, F*** YOU, naïve, 4ever
Weakest Tracks: Lipstick
Willow Smith is an icon for the young Gen Z. Despite being overshadowed by her Hollywood stalwart parents Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith and Karate Kid-famed brother Jaden Smith, the precocious twenty-year-old has carved her own niche in pop music with her raw lyrics and unmistakably recognizable voice. While her most well-known songs like ‘WAIT A MINUTE!’ and ‘Time Machine’ are pop-dance tracks that went viral on TikTok, Willow is not one to settle on a single sound. She has explored screamo rock with fellow artist Tyler Cole on their collaborative album THE ANXIETY. And last year, inspired by Hindu teachings, she dived into transcendental meditative music with classical musician Jahnavi Harrison (legendary Beatle George Harrison’s daughter) for the EP called Rise. With her latest album, Willow tries her hand at punk. Perhaps, influenced by her mother Jada’s legacy as the frontwoman of punk band Wicked Wisdom, Willow chose the genre that happens to work amazingly with her tremendously robust voice.
‘Transparent Soul’ is the lead single from Lately I Feel Everything and features drum work from the legendary Travis Barker of punk band Blink-182. The guitar riff instantly zaps you into the sonic chaos. The angst-ridden lyrics emotionally hit hard as Willow masterfully sing-screams about fake and superficial people who remind her of boys and girls who hurt her in the past. Written during an introspective time during lockdown, it oozes of the pain after being deceived by people she trusted. It makes sense why this was picked as the lead single as well as opening track for LIFE because the pop-punk song has a mix of fresh as well as nostalgic sounds to it that will appeal to a young audience that hasn’t lived through a major punk movement.
‘F*** YOU’ is thirty seconds of pure raw punk, complete with live performance, absence of studio engineering, and lyrics roaring of sheer hatred against an ex. It makes you wonder why this was so short since a 3 minute extended version of this song would have easily earned the album credibility among serious critics.
‘Gaslight’, which also features drumming by Travis, is another head bangingly tasty tune with a sound that will take listeners to the summer of 2007 at a Malibu beach party where teenagers surfed on the waves even if they have never actually been there.
‘Naïve’ is one of the stronger songs on the album with a melancholic hook and instrumentation that might first take you to your painful teenage years when you first felt heartbreak or romantic confusion. The lyrics, on the other hand, go deeper as they speak of protests in the Bronx, being hit by rubber bullets and getting chased by cops. Willow is in form here, yet again, as she scream-sings “I want you to tell me when I’m being naïve”. It will break your heart.
‘Lipstick’ was the second single of the album, which is questionable because although it is infused with the refreshingly emotional voice of Willow, it is less memorable than the other tracks. It has a simplistic, early 2000s Linkin Park/alt-metal vibe which may or may not be a positive depending on the listener’s taste. Whatever effect it had on this author wore off after two hearings.
‘Lipstick’ is followed by ‘Come Home’, which features vocals from Canadian multi-instrumentalist Ayla Tesler-Mabe. Honestly, Tesler-Mabe’s voice here is different enough from Willow’s to be noticed by a keen ear but similar enough for one to wonder why she was invited to perform in this track since she does not contribute something new to the song. ‘¡BREAKOUT!’, which features California-based rock band Cherry Glazerr, does far better with frontwoman Clementine Creevy’s guttural perfection of a voice, taking us back to the days of Stevie Nicks and even Courtney Love, kicking the song to a higher gear.
‘4ever’ is a quieter track (at least quiet compared to the rest of the head-banging record). Often when albums have a more sombre track midway, there is a significant dip in both energy and creativity, being disappointingly slacking. ‘4ever’ amazingly avoids that with the sheer power of Willow’s haunting vocals and the backup singing.
‘XTRA’ features the superbly talented rapper Tierra Whack. This pairing feels strange and might raise eyebrows at first, but this interesting blending of Willow’s punk singing (which becomes a staple by this point) and Tierra’s emotionally compatible rapping go well together. Pity that we don’t hear much of Whack on this song as it wraps up too soon.
‘GROW’ is a fun track with guest vocals from pop-punk icon Avril Lavigne. Now this is how you do guest vocals. Lavigne’s electrifying voice reminds you of why she is loved by rebellious teenagers since the 2000s.
‘don’t SAVE ME’ is a head banging rock song that, in spite of its heavy guitar riff, suffers from its short length. This is a recurring problem in many of the songs in the album. It seems like Willow & team took the saying “leave the audience wanting more” too seriously to the point where they failed to explore newer territory with the sound, as they felt the need to end the songs too quickly.
Many of these songs had the potential to build together a classic teenage pop-punk record that fans would sing along to in packed stadiums, and be remembered as one of the classics in the future. But the short length of tracks such as ‘F*** YOU’ and ‘don’t SAVE ME’ and the lack of experimentation and, dare I say, even creative laziness in some of these songs result in LIFE frustratingly being not more than just a good effort.
‘Lately I Feel Everything’ is now on Spotify: Click
Listen to the album on YouTube: