This is not “Give Your Heart a Break” Demi Lovato – and nor should it be.
They’ve shed their pop skin to howl through the pain.
For years, Lovato’s life – complicated, messy, traumatic – has been on public display. Fans walked with them through a drug overdose (detailed in 2021's intense “Dancing With the Devil” documentary) and cheered their decision to adopt they/them pronouns to indicate gender fluidity (Lovato recently reintroduced she/her to their identity pronouns too).
While Lovato’s eighth studio album, “Holy Fv--,” could be seen as a continuation of 2021’s “Dancing With the Devil …The Art of Starting Over,” it’s even more forthright and visceral. Lovato is not only excavating demons but doing so through bold, guitar-heavy rockers to channel her seesawing emotions.
Here’s a look at the 16 tracks, all co-written by Lovato:
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'Freak' (featuring Yungblud)
Squealing guitars coupled with an interpolation of the familiar circus theme (officially called “Entry of the Gladiators,” in case you were wondering), results in a blistering entry into “Holy Fv--.” “Came for the trauma, stayed for the drama,” Lovato thunders. Surely, she is not alone.
'Skin of My Teeth'
The influence of Courtney Love and Hole blasts through several songs on the album, but the bulldozing feel of ’90s grunge rock is most apparent here as Lovato bluntly declares, “I can’t believe I’m not dead.” Her brutal honesty cuts even deeper when she sings, “I just wanna be free, but I can’t / ’cause it’s a (expletive) disease.”
Death is never far from Lovato’s brain (“Don’t wanna end up in a casket / head full of maggots”), even when she utilizes her sweeter tones in a display of hard pop. Her continued desire to be heard (“Am I talking to myself?” she wonders) is tinged with sadness belied by a caffeinated drum beat.
'Eat Me' (featuring Royal & The Serpent)
Call it Nine Inch Nails-lite, as Lovato and Royal & The Serpent (aka Ryan Santiago) tiptoe in on a creeping goth vibe before the song explodes into a fireball of anger. “Would you like me better if I was still hurt?” Lovato asks, her intention clearly more of a foregone conclusion than a genuine question.
Over a slithering groove, Lovato’s voice swings from snarly and woozy to unleashed fury in the first 30 seconds of the efficient rocker. Searing guitars and a symphony of crashing cymbals color a tale spiked with serpents, angels, demons, sinners and saints.
The song's name is a reference to Lovato's age at the time they wrote it (they turn 30 on Saturday), giving listeners a blunt depiction of being taken advantage of by an older suitor (“Numbers told you not to / but that didn’t stop you”), which fans have surmised is about her relationship with actor Wilmer Valderrama. “I see you’re quite the collector / Yeah, you’re 12 years her elder,” Lovato sneers, referencing “17 … 29,” the ages she and Valderrama were, respectively, when they started dating in 2010.
A milder pop-rocker that finds Lovato ruminating: “Will I ever know what it’s like to be fine / My demons are calling and tearing me to shreds.” A scratching guitar riff builds into a mountain of a chorus as a pensive Lovato provides even more truth. “Sure, I’m sober now and everybody’s proud,” she sings. “But I miss my vices.”
The Nine Inch Nails effect is prevalent here as well, with shards of guitar and breathy vocal effects culminating in a middle finger of a rocker. After asking for forgiveness and admitting that she’ll always be a “heathen,” Lovato cackles as the song closes over an angelic chorus.
'City of Angels'
Jumpy drums inject a restlessness that perfectly complements Lovato’s quest for sexual adventures in Los Angeles (the Viper Room, the Roxy and Disneyland are namechecked as locales for her libidinous action). The spirit of Avril Lavigne looms large over this punchy romper.
A pumping disco beat with teeth and a killer guitar groove that would make Nile Rodgers proud serve as the backdrop to Lovato’s extremely unsubtle lustful objectives (“Let me jump your bones”). It’s impressive that she’s crafted both a call to the dance floor and a brazen head thrasher in one song.
What starts as a ballad soon escalates into a surging chorus as Lovato explains how she substitutes love for drugs (“I’m scared of the comedown … getting wasted on you”). It’s an addiction for sure, albeit a healthier one.
Clean guitar lines and a thumping bass drum anchor an updated version of Madonna’s similarly themed “Borderline” (“Got me closer to the edge than ever / We both want it but we don’t surrender”). Lovato’s potent vocals get a vigorous workout at the song’s end.
When Lovato sings “I made it through hell and I don’t know why / How am I different … it doesn’t feel right,” her survivor’s guilt is palpable. And when she states, “I miss my dead friends,” it’s not a soft bit of introspection, but a candid confession injected with the type of adrenaline found throughout the album.
'Help Me' (featuring Dead Sara)
A combination of sarcastic sentiments (“I’m gonna take your opinions, shove ’em back in your face”) and a quirky lyrical insert from guest Emily Armstrong of Dead Sara culminate in the album's most unusual song.
As this power ballad intensifies, Lovato grapples with things that will never leave her – like her demons “on the hunt” – but also realizes now that “my angels taught me how to run.” She also unloads one of her most compelling lyrics on an album full of them: “I found my soul just to lose my mind.”
'4 Ever 4 Me'
Closing this stirring but emotionally exhausting album with an introspective summary might sound simplistic. But Lovato’s hopefulness at finding love (“I think this is forever for me”) and unrelenting fearlessness make it easy to root for her to succeed.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Demi Lovato's new album grapples with demons, death, sex: Review