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Take a musical moment for singer Rina Sawayama's new album

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Pop singer Rina Sawayama made a splash with her debut studio album in 2020 where she processed her fish-out-of-water experiences as a Japanese British girl through a fresh electro-pop sound. So her sophomore album, "Hold The Girl," released on Friday, was much anticipated. But Laura Snapes, the music editor at "The Guardian," says the singer's latest release doesn't deliver on its potential.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HURRICANES")

RINA SAWAYAMA: (Singing) Doing yoga just to feel untethered, but my mind keeps ru-ru-ru-running (ph) away.

LAURA SNAPES: It's a really interesting second record by somebody who you can tell is shooting incredibly high because she laid such good foundations with her debut album. But I think, unfortunately, the ambition has sort of been brought to bear on it in a way that everything is just incredibly excessive. It's all so dialed up.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HURRICANES")

SAWAYAMA: (Singing) So won’t you give me a sign if you're really there? 'Cause I've been lost inside waiting on a prayer until I find your door, until the wind blows north. I'm running, I'm running, running into hurricanes.

SNAPES: I think she gets lost in the middle of it, which is sad because the album is called "Hold The Girl," and the concept of it is her reconnecting with her younger self as a way to deal with various traumas that she's experienced, whether that be sort of intergenerational trauma or assimilation or homophobia. One of the reasons people love Rina Sawayama is because she is so distinct, and people were very excited by that. And I think that a lot of her specificity really gets drowned by the volume of the new album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS HELL")

SAWAYAMA: (Singing) Saw a poster on the corner opposite the motel - turns out I'm going to hell if I keep on being myself. Don't know what I did, but they seem pretty mad about it. God hates us? All right then - buckle up, at dawn, we're riding.

SNAPES: So "This Hell" is the lead single off "Hold The Girl." And as you can hear, the brief is pretty much Shania Twain meets Lady Gaga.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS HELL")

SAWAYAMA: (Singing) This hell is better with you. We're burning up together, baby, that makes two. 'Cause the devil's wearing Prada and loves a little drama, ooh-ooh (ph). This hell is better with you - with you, with you.

SNAPES: It's emblematic of one of the problems of the record, which is that it doesn't really exceed the sum of its parts. It's Shania plus Gaga. There's references to "The Devil Wears Prada." And for me, that's one of the problems with this record. It's constantly winking at you where it's just like, hey, remember this? Hey, remember this? It's like when "Stranger Things" is like, hey, guys, remember the '80s? It's the '80s. Have you seen "E.T."? Do you know "The Goonies"? It's just all of these references, and I find them very distracting. And she doesn't do anything with them apart from cobble them together.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CATCH ME IN THE AIR")

SAWAYAMA: (Singing) I ran away, where clouds kiss the mountain peaks. I was afraid, but you put the wings on me.

SNAPES: "Catch Me In The Air," I think, is one of the more effective, audacious moments on this record. It has a number of key changes in it. It is very nakedly influenced by The Corrs - the Irish, like, brother-and-sister band, who were very big in the '90s, certainly in the U.K. You can also hear schlager, which is a German form of very theatrical balladry. You'd think Eurovision. I mean, this album is highly, highly Eurovision.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CATCH ME IN THE AIR")

SAWAYAMA: (Singing) I'm flying. Twenty years all alone, bound together to the bone - was it fate? Watched you decorated on the walls, made a prison of our home - no escape.

SNAPES: And it's this anthem of healing. And I think it's quite rich, and it is quite sentimental. But I think there she pulls off this huge, soaring, almost yodeling chorus, which is so audacious and outlandish, you kind of can't help but give it to her. I think that that is one of the more effective, intense sides of the record.

MARTIN: That was music editor Laura Snapes discussing Rina Sawayama's latest album, "Hold The Girl." It's out now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CATCH ME IN THE AIR")

SAWAYAMA: (Singing) So catch me in the air. Mama, look at me now. Catch me in the air. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.