Lauren Spencer Smith – Mirror

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It took quite a while to get here, but the debut album from 19-year-old British Columbia singer Lauren Spencer-Smith has finally arrived about a year and a half after her heartbroken single “Fingers Crossed” exploded across TikTok, drawing comparisons to the rise of Olivia Rodrigo. With seven singles already released, many fans likely knew what to expect from the American Idol alum on Mirror, and there’s not a ton of variation to be found across the fifteen tracks that ended up making the cut. But despite moments where it feels like Spencer-Smith is falling into generic formulae or weighing things down with one breakup ballad after another, the album is an enjoyable listen overall because of her powerful vocals and lyrical specificity that elevate more songs than not. Described as “a story filled with autobiographical ups and downs,” Spencer-Smith mines a lot of detail out of her personal stories of heartbreak and finding a new and exciting love on the other side with some impressive notes along the way.

The opening track “Never Been In Love” is a huge example why so many tracks by younger women are hitting so hard with all members of the general public at the moment – the concept of truly never being in love (despite a couple of attempts that Spencer-Smith describes) is one that’s ripe for lyrical exploration. With the kind of striking pop-soul energy that you’re looking for when the harmonized chorus hits, Spencer-Smith delivers a memorable melody reaching up into her head voice while emoting about feeling ready to move past the teenage superficialities and jump into a mature relationship that will sweep her off her feet. With so many acoustic or piano ballads on the tracklist, however, it does make the ones that aren’t quite as catchy or powerfully written fall by the wayside pretty quickly. Follow-up track “Love Is An Overstatement” mostly falls into the kind of boring four-on-the-floor thump and melodically unadventurous style reserved for the kind of faux-inspirational tunes played when people make it to the Hollywood rounds on the show Spencer-Smith hails from. “Fingers Crossed,” however, appears next and reminds listeners why Spencer-Smith is here. The single more than holds up, as she takes her vocal delivery to an entirely new level and sounds viscerally angry, a bit of a rasp creeping into her powerful belts to give them an even more intriguing dimension. The swung tempo is a nice touch, and calling her ex-partner out for some specific moments has the kind of writing that would make her idol Taylor Swift proud.

Clearly dreamt up in some label boardroom, the track “Fantasy” brings together three of the most notable descendants of the Billie Eilish/Olivia Rodrigo boom and throws them on the kind of eerie, dark-pop, somewhat punk-inflected sound that unites most of them – but out of Spencer-Smith and her collaborators GAYLE and Em Beihold, it’s the lead artist’s world the least of all. She still sounds good, but for all of her missteps, it’s GAYLE who actually sounds the best here. Still, hearing all three team up for a couple of sarcastic and sassy lyrical barbs is still a good time. The tracks “Narcissist” and “Bigger Person” continue to display Spencer-Smith’s lyrical prowess, as she approaches familiar topics from new angles. Produced by Greg Kurstin himself, the former allows Spencer-Smith to step into her Adele energy as she primarily hopes to inform her fellow female listeners that it’s not their fault for falling for all of the tricks of a narcissist. The melody in the chorus certainly sounds a little familiar, but she’s the kind of vocalist that’s good enough that it doesn’t matter – some people are just meant for piano ballads. “Bigger Person” doesn’t hit quite as hard musically, but it’s still fascinating to hear Spencer-Smith musing on feeling annoyed that she was always taught growing up to be polite, forgiving, and quiet; now feeling like she’s the only one following the rules and taking on all of that emotional weight when conflicts arise. The emotional bridge is a great moment, before “Aftermath” swings back in the other direction, simply sounding hilariously similar to “Fingers Crossed.”

While you start to learn to expect that not much new musical ground is going to be broken as the album progresses into its back half, at least Spencer-Smith always has something interesting to say where many of her contemporaries are on auto-pilot. Despite an odd moment of distorted guitars near the end, “28” finds her criticizing a former partner for being a pathological liar and dating women much younger than himself, as she seemingly throws a lyric in explaining that she was with him at the age of only 13. “Best Friend Breakup” finds romantic relationships hurting Spencer-Smith in other ways, as a former friend leaves her behind after she finds a beau of her own. This one finds her hitting some more of her trademark notes in the chorus, coming across like Demi Lovato in her earlier days. “Too Hurt To Fall In Love” and “Hey” go together when it comes to their subject matter, as the former finds Spencer-Smith singing about being burned too many times and overthinking relationships even when they don’t present anything to worry about – the exact kind of mindstate she exemplifies on “Hey,” listing out all of the worries and past experiences that made her that way.

Thrown near the album’s end, it’s surprising that they chose “Flowers” as the second single. One of the sparsest piano tunes here without much in the way of big vocal moments, it lands with the least impact on the album. That being said, however, some of the very best tracks come near the end. “ily” might find you needing to embrace the cheese as Spencer-Smith gets adorably giddy over hearing those three little words, but the real depth is found on tracks like “That Part.” Sounding the most convincingly head-over-heels here, she sings about knowing she’s found the one, wanting to skip right to the exciting bits when they’re older and imagining every aspect of their future right down to the white picket fences and brand of beds their children will sleep in. The project’s closing track is its best one, as “Do It All Again” presents a very touching sentiment. With some great lyrical twists, Spencer-Smith describes how all of the pain was necessary to lead to the happy ending that she wishes she was able to see while she was crying about it all. The titular statement about finding something so great that she would go through all the pain again is extremely powerful – not to mention earning enough money from writing about it to get her mom a house.

Spencer-Smith is still only 19, and has a lot of time to hone her skills even further. Already linked up with someone as prominent as Greg Kurstin, her opportunities should only continue to expand – hopefully varying her sound palates a little bit more in the future, because she probably has the kind of natural talent to tackle almost anything.

Favourite Tracks: Do It All Again, Fingers Crossed, That Part, Narcissist

Least Favourite Track: Flowers

Score: 6/10

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