When Katy Perry’s Smile album recently failed to worry the top of the global charts it apparently rang the death knell for capital P pop. “Life and listening have become too complex for 2D”, claimed The Atlantic, with the “costumed fictions” of Perry, Lady Gaga and dollar sign-era Kesha dismissed as passé. How then to explain 26-year-old Amanda Koci, AKA Ava Max, an uncomplicated throwback to Fame-era Gaga, saddled with a gimmicky lopsided wig? Sure, Heaven & Hell has a loose conceptual framework – first half uplifting, second half darker – but it doesn’t impede on a turbo-charged, ballad-averse album that buffs 2010-level melodies until they dazzle.
Chances are you’ll be familiar with ludicrous earworm Sweet But Psycho, which is fast approaching one billion Spotify streams. Its template of churning synths and cheerleader chants also forms the backbone of the bubbly Tattoo, while recent single, the broad strokes empowerment anthem Kings & Queens, goes one step further into Stars in their Eyes territory by employing Gaga’s erstwhile producer RedOne. The references don’t end there; on Naked, which shares Teenage Dream’s wistful, baked-in nostalgia, Max channels Ariana Grande’s controlled yearning, while the disco-tinged OMG What’s Happening recalls Marina’s high-wire vocal undulations.
Clearly originality isn’t a priority, and lyrically Heaven & Hell blows up pop cliches to 96-point headlines, reaching a nadir on the heavy-handed, “I’m weird me” outcast anthem So Am I. Even at its most basic, however, the melodic infrastructure is impeccable, plus there’s something glorious about its dogged aversion to anything other than 2D escapism.