Review: Charlie Puth makes astonishing, glistening pop

Review: Charlie Puth makes astonishing, glistening pop
This cover mage released by Atlantic Records shows "Voicenotes," the latest release by Charlie Puth. (Atlantic Records via AP)

Charlie Puth, “Voicenotes” (Atlantic Records)

The delay in the release of Charlie Puth’s sophomore album has been maddening. He already had a hit with one of the songs, “Attention,” last summer. Another, “How Long,” came out this winter. Now the rest of it is finally out and … well, now we’d like to apologize for being impatient.

The 13-track “Voicenotes” is an astonishing, glistening collection of summer-perfect pop, crafted by a gifted songwriter with a butterfly falsetto and a knack for hooks. It’s so very 2018 that he named the CD after the iPhone recording app he uses to craft his infectious bombs.

The album opens with “The Way I Am,” and on it he addresses any critics out there: “You can either hate me/ Or love me/ But that’s just the way I am.” Puth then makes a good case for why we should love him.

The songs for the most part deal with youthful infatuation. He asks a lover to be understanding (“Patient”), suspects he’s being cheated on (“How Long” and “Somebody Told Me”), tries to convince a girl he’s mature enough (“Boy”), tells a girl to stop sweating him (“Slow It Down”), misses his long-distance squeeze (“LA Girls”) and macks on another man’s girlfriend (“Empty Cups”). Hey, he’s 26.

But so consummate a songwriter is Puth that he also invites others into his party — and mimics their style. He made the finger-snapping a cappella “If You Leave Me Now” with Boyz II Men and a groovy, uplifting James Taylor-ish tune in “Change” with THE actual James Taylor, a master stroke and a highlight on an album already stuffed with them.

Puth had a hand in writing all the songs and produced the album. In the liner notes, he says they were crafted with the music software Pro Tools — and empowers others: “Anyone that tells you that you can’t make hit records and an album that you are proud of without expensive studios, gear, millions of dollars or even other producers, they are wrong.”

Perhaps the only misstep is the last song, the piano-driven ballad “Through It All,” a kind of grandiose mic drop that channels Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” With plenty of bravado, Puth sings: “I’ve already fell so many times but I got back up/ But at least I did it all my way.”

Look, Puth has a fantastic career ahead, of that there is no doubt. But maybe this isn’t quite the right time for his victory lap. He should have let the first 12 songs prove it.


Mark Kennedy is at