After a seven year hiatus from the music industry (apart from the 2011 single, “Invisible”), Skylar Grey has finally returned with her sophomore album, Don’t Look Down. The grittier vibe of Don’t Look Down in comparison to Grey’s debut, Like Blood Like Honey, is perhaps part of the evolution that took place after having so much time to experiment musically. Grey had, in fact, contemplated quitting music altogether, but, thankfully a little help from the likes of Eminem and Alex da Kid ultimately produced the final product that is Don’t Look Down.
The first track to kick off the album, “Back From the Dead,” is an appurtenant opening that inadvertently addresses Grey’s long absence from the music scene. With contributions from Big Sean and Travis Barker, the song is a strong first track to introduce the world to the new Grey. With lyrics like, “Where do we begin now that you’re back from the dead?”, Grey approaches the subject of the difficulties of starting over–in any respect. Next up is the gravelly beat of “Final Warning,” one of the most memorable songs on Don’t Look Down. The dramatic, “warning” lyrics threaten, “I’m going to the kitchen/Coming back with a knife/Cause I’ve had enough this time.” Background noises of couples fighting serve to accent the violent tone of the song. Grey’s final warning turns out to be: “Someone’s gonna get hurt/And it’s not gonna be me.”
Following “Final Warning” is the soulful “Wear Me Out.” A piano-based background highlights the sultry sounding vocals of Grey as she discusses the things that wear her out while she tells the object of her affection, “Well you’re such a hypocrite to think me so unwise/I’m just trying to see the world through my own eyes.” The tone of the album shifts slightly with “Religion.” A stripped down, acoustic track, “Religion” has distinctive resemblances to early Sheryl Crow as she sings, “When you don’t know what to believe in, let me be your religion/It’s a fucked up world that we live in, so let me be your religion.” Grey’s expressiveness when it comes to addressing the uncertainty of modern life can also be traced back to the uncertainty she feels in sticking to any one particular musical style. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Grey acknowledged,
“One of my biggest problems is I get bored too easily, and I like to experiment too much, to the point where I confuse myself and I confuse my fans. So it just took me some time to figure out exactly what I wanted this album to sound like because I had worked with so many types of people and tried so many different things. I had to wait for the right batch of songs to come together and feel like a whole piece.”
The undeniably Eminem-influenced first single from the album, C’Mon Let Me Ride” samples lyrics from, what else, Queen’s “Bicycle Race,” with Eminem repeating said lyrics in a decidedly Pee-Wee Herman-esque voice. “Only Thing I Hear” airs a bit more on the angelic side in terms of Grey’s intonation and lyrical content. Though, of course, Grey isn’t one for singing about pleasant things as she laments, “I get so tired of listening to everyone/Tell me I have everything a girl should want.” Subsequently, “Sunshine” keeps the musical motif of “Only Thing I Hear” going, though with a bit more reassurance on Grey’s part due to her remark, “You’re sick of working hard and always being bored…/Ain’t got money, but we got sunshine.”
“Pulse” picks up the pace and changes the tone with a more hip hop-tinged beat, mixed with notes of “You Oughta Know”-era Alanis Morissette lyrics like, “I heard you found a new friend/I hope you give her good head/The kind you didn’t give me.” The fast-tempoed, angry vibe of “Pulse” is negated by the gentleness of “Glow in the Dark,” a calm, soothing track that shows us a more tranquil side of Grey. Her newfound self-assurance is evident as she asserts, “I’ve got a fire in me/It’s so bright I can’t believe I ever was scared before/Of things I could not control.”
“Shit, Man!” is as abrupt a song as the title would suggest, with solid, addictive backbeats that hook you right away. Surprisingly, the song is about having an unexpected pregnancy, a topic that is so rarely mentioned in pop music (maybe because it’s usually reserved for country music). In an Ashlee Simpson-esque (that’s not an insult, I swear) voice, Grey worries, “You’re never ready for something quite like this…/So now what happens if I choose to have a child with you?” A rap by Angel Haze also adds to the uniqueness of this track. “Clear Blue Sky” is an aurally vibrant, life-affirming song that explores the difficulty of letting go of negativity. Grey admits, “I’m in love with misery/But you can have my darkness…/I’m gettin’ in my own way and all the shit that you say is makin’ my world all grey.”
“Tower (Don’t Look Down)” slows down the pace again to reveal Grey’s strong, adept vocals. The song explores the impossibility of continuing with an inequitable relationship–especially when one person seems to be destined for greater things. Grey reconciles, “You’ve got the world at your feet/But there’s nothin’ out there for me.” It is by far the most bittersweet track on Don’t Look Down as Grey reveals her highly sensitive emotions. The closer of the album, “White Suburban,” maintains the same dramatic tone as “Tower (Don’t Look Down)” with a far more Fiona Apple flavor. And, just to clarify, the word “Suburban” refers to the car, not the generic environment. The bluesy nature of the song is an interesting choice to conclude with, proving her point that she can’t be confined to a single musical genre.