Artist: Conor Maynard
It is really hard not to compare Conor Maynard to Justin Bieber, even though this isn't a comparison the 19-year-old British singer is particularly pleased with. Like Bieber, Maynard is young; became a YouTube sensation after posting covers on the website; got noticed by an established R&B singer (Ne-Yo); and has built a massive fanbase.
In terms of music though, a more apt comparison can be made to a different Justin - Justin Timberlake. Listen to his debut album, Contrast, and you'll see that the teen popstar is drawing inspiration from the solo work of the former *Nsync singer.
The first two singles - 'Can't Say No' and 'Vegas Girl' - are pretty accurate indicators of what the album has to offer. Contrast is a compilation of a dozen pieces of slick urban pop and electronic R&B; it's derivative and processed, but undoubtedly catchy. Content wise, the album doesn't shy away from being cheesy, and the lyrics of Maynard's songs aren't as innocent as his looks. It is fairly obvious from the get go that the young singer has a thing for “girls, girls, girls” and really wants the world to know it.
Maynard has worked with producers including The Invisible Men, The Arcade, Benny Blanco, and Pharrell Williams on the set, and stars like Ne-Yo and Pharrell are also on hand as featured artists to add some credibility to the effort, as is newcomer Rita Ora (who has also just made her debut album). Ney-Yo lends vocals to the second track (and third single) of the album, 'Turn Around'; it is a fairly standard song, and perhaps one of the less interesting tracks on Contrast. Pharrell's contributions, on the other hand, particularly stand out; the two songs where he takes the production reins - 'Lift Off' (on which he is also featured) and 'Glass Girl' - are immediately evocative of The Neptunes producer's work. Although that, perhaps, is also an indication of the material's shortfall - it's hard to tell whether the character of the album comes from the singer or his many collaborators; at times it feels like the record says more about the collaborators than it does about the artist whose name graces its cover.
So while the singer's identity might be overshadowed by the people he is working with and his persona might not be entirely convincing, the album is still well tailored for the pop market. The material isn't deep and it lacks substance, but it is aware of the audience it's targeting. The album is very contemporary, and blends the current urban and dance pop trends, using slick production to create the sound that fits the current market. It's smart in a commercial sense; some of the songs do fail to stand out, but if you are into this kind of music, then most of the album will work for you. Yes, it's safe and unoriginal and doesn't have much to offer that distinguishes it from other similar R&B and electropop offerings, but the occasional shades of Justin Timberlake and sometimes even Michael Jackson you hear in the songs aren't necessarily a bad thing. Maybe with his next album, Maynard can actually develop his sound and come into his own.