I’d like to preface this review by saying that I love Ariana Grande. Her past two albums have been brilliant and feature some of the best songs of her career, despite coming out within six months of each other. God is a woman was my most played song on Spotify for two years in a row. She has managed to balance commercial pop song-writing with interesting lyrical perspectives which, between that and her undeniable celebrity status, has made her one of the 21st century’s biggest stars.

I write this because when I first heard the lead single and title track for positions, I was worried. It is fairly lowkey, with a simple trap/R’n’B-inspired beat and some strings driving the verses. You’d think it would be about sex but surprisingly the title is less suggestive than you’d think – it’s more about love and compromising for your partner than about sex. It’s a good song, but it’s nothing like the huge cultural events of Ariana’s previous lead singles (Dangerous Woman, no tears left to cry, thank u, next). I was concerned that the forthcoming album would be similarly low-energy and lack the excellent song-writing I’ve come to expect from Grande.

Well, I was pretty much right about that. However, I’ll start with some positives: her voice still sounds brilliant. Of course it does, it’s Ariana Grande, I hear you say! It’s easy to forget how impactful her vocal delivery is, and she creates her own background vocals throughout the album which sound great. Tracks like shut up and my hair remind us that she is in a league of her own when it comes to her voice.

Unfortunately, it’s clear that positions is a far less ambitious album than her previous efforts. Most of the songs deal with the same themes of sex, or having sex, or waiting to have sex, or just having had sex, etc. It also doesn’t help that most of these songs are pretty uninspired and lack Grande’s usual perspective. 34+35 and nasty, amongst others, are generic songs about fucking – there really isn’t much more to them. I don’t know how much of this album was recorded during lockdown, but it sounds like most of this album has been inspired by quarantine boredom.

Instrumentally, there isn’t much to be desired here either. Most of these tracks sound like B-sides from thank u, next, with the songs fading into each other if you don’t pay attention to the tracklist. Many of these songs are generic enough that they are perfect for the mindless playlisting of music streaming platforms (there’s a noticeable trend towards artists making “boring” music so they can get more streams – I might write about it at a later date.)  Even as I look at the tracklist now, I’m struggling to remember what six thirty or obvious sound like and I’ve listened to the album three times now. Three times!

That’s not to say there aren’t some standout tracks amongst the swampy R’n’B-lite tracks. motive with Doja Cat stands out as the highest-energy song, with Doja being by far the best feature on the album. I really like the bounciness of the beat on my hair, giving a really nice break from the more straightforward instrumentals on the album. Finally, pov is a beautiful closer. Grande knows how to tug on the right heartstrings in a song, even if she doesn’t always seem to want to.

pov is an ironic choice as a closer, as the thirteen tracks that came before it actually show very little sign of growth from her previous albums, either sonically or lyrically. I think I get what she was going for: demonstrating that she doesn’t need all the intense pop music gloss on her music and wanting to make something more adult and mature. The result is just too middle-of-the-road to have much replay value. Perhaps if she had leaned more into one particular facet of the album – the house-R’n’B of motive, the slow-jam of off the table, the slightly jazzy my hair, the balladry of pov – then it might be more compelling. In addition, she might have chopped off a few tracks from the tracklist, given how long and repetitive the album feels.

Having said all this negative stuff about the album, I can’t say I hate it. I still enjoyed listening to it, and I probably like this more than other similar pop artists’ recent albums. It’s just disappointing when I know she can deliver better work. Hopefully she bounces back with a more interesting album next time, so I’m not left with a bad R’n’B-flavoured taste in my mouth.