There’s an old Saturday Night Live sketch where Rachel Dratch plays Debbie, a character who has a knack for ruining any gathering with her complaints. A typical Debbie sketch found the character at Disney, where she tempers her friends’ enthusiasm for the experience by riffing on Mad Cow disease, the tiger attack on Roy of Seigfried and Roy, a train explosion in North Korea, and her two-year stint at Children’s Hospital. Of course, part of the gag is that Dratch’s sketch partners can’t keep themselves from breaking, because the character is just so funny.
That’s what I thought about while listening to Alessia Cara’s second album, The Pains of Growing. Cara is the voice of a generation, trying to come of age while surrounded by craziness on all sides. “One day I swear the pain will be a blip. . . . I’ll be the king of misery management” she sings on “Not Today.” Her experience of angst is just as delightfully rendered as it was on her debut album, Here. The 2015 album was a surprise hit that won Cara a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. Three years later, Cara shows growth as an artist without losing her trademark Debbie Downer view of the world.
This construct includes being self-aware. “So what if you’re a bit bitter before you recharge?/I mean, I spend my days complaining to a guitar,” she sings in “Easier Said.” Cara’s voice is richer and she isn’t afraid to show off her vocal range in stripped-down songs. Cara wrote every song on the album and produced three tracks, demonstrating confidence in the sound and message she wanted to convey.
Cara’s message can be enjoyed by everyone, but it’s particularly pleasing to the always-under-attack Millennial generation. On “7 Days” she acts as this generation’s Joan Osbourne, who once posed the question Generation X wanted answered: “what if God was one of us / just a slob like one of us?” Cara asked the question Millennials want to hear: “Does he hang his head at all the greed that we possess? / As the anti-social media perpetuates the mess.” The lyrics acknowledge that the social media has become essential to people’s lives is also poisoned for people’s lives. She goes further into Osbourne territory when she wonders whether God is “Curled up on his couch right now/As we fail to figure it out/Does he turn down the sound?”
The production team behind Here was Pop and Oak, and they are back for five tracks on the new album. The song “Girl Next Door” epitomizes Cara’s outlook. She admits she’s no “Bowie, Prince or Queen” but then notes “at least I do what I dream.” The bridge sums it all up:
And I may not be a genius
I’m just a girl with some reasons to stay Plain Jane
But I won’t go ’til you hear me
I’ll be sure not to leave ‘fore you know my name
Cara may have some grievances, but they are droll enough to entertain. The album should excite everyone about what comes next.