Dancing With The Devil… The Art of Starting Over: Transforming pain into art
By Sergio Niblett-Morales 20 April 2021
Image Courtesy of Poltrona Vip
TW: This review contains mentions of hospitalisation and drug overdose
Raw and honest from top to bottom, the 19 track ‘Dancing With The Devil… The Art of Starting Over’ is Demi Lovato’s 7th studio album, which is a beautiful ode to healing and, as she says in the ‘Intro’, ‘sheds the skin of [her] past’.
Following the release of her previous album ‘Tell Me You Love Me’ in 2017, Lovato took a hiatus from making music due to a tragic opioid overdose in 2018 in which she was hospitalised. As a result of her hospitalisation, complications in her health followed as she suffered strokes, a heart attack and brain damage that affected her vision. This traumatising period of her life is addressed within the Prelude of the album, consisting of three tracks. The first of these, ‘Anyone’, is a powerful, heart-wrenching ballad in which Lovato cries for help to ‘please send me anyone’. Her vocals are on top form in this song in particular, but the whole album is punctuated with her strong vocal prowess. The second song of the Prelude, and the first half of the album title, ‘Dancing With The Devil’ compounds her overdose with her struggles with addiction to detail how close she was to death. The song takes more of a mid-tempo production wise, but the strongest aspect are the lyrics, such as when Lovato states she ‘Almost made it to Heaven/It was closer than you know’. The final song of the Prelude, ‘ICU (Madison’s Lullabye)’, is a soft piano ballad that details the experience of Lovato recovering after her overdose to find that she did not recognise her sister, Madison, who was sat with her. The title itself is a double meaning, reflecting both being in an Intensive Care Unit and being able to finally see her sister.
All three tracks within the Prelude are cathartic precursors to the other part of the album ‘The Art of Starting Over’. The production for a large portion of the rest of the songs is upbeat and jovial, combining elements of pop, R&B and country music. However, the deceptive production for these songs conceals the lyrics which are still just as personal and sometimes saddening as the first three tracks. The emphasis is placed on healing.
The second half of the titular track ‘The Art of Starting Over’, is a fun and upbeat pop song, contrasting with the previous tracks in the Prelude of the album. This point of the album signifies a new beginning for Lovato following her overdose and the contrast between both of the title tracks is a creative concept.
There are many standouts in the subsequent 13 tracks but one of note that epitomises the difference between production and lyrical content is ‘Melon Cake’, a bouncy pop-rock track that details the strict regulations on her diet from her previous management. Lovato used to be restricted to only having cakes made of watermelon on her birthdays, and she even details in the song how one of her team was fired for handing her a chocolate bar. This harmful regulation is covered by the fun production that seemingly reflects her newfound freedom in how she can control her diet.
Lovato also has four collaborations on the album, two of which (‘Met Him Last Night’ with Ariana Grande and ‘My Girlfriends Are My Boyfriend’ with Saweetie) are pop/R&B infused tracks. ‘Met Him Last Night’ is a vocal wonderland, with both Grande and Lovato delivering stellar vocals and harmonies throughout the song. The track details a rendezvous with the Devil, which is relatively impersonal compared to other songs like ‘Melon Cake’ and ‘Anyone’. However, this does not detract from the quality of the song which is perfectly suited for radio play. ‘My Girlfriends Are My Boyfriend’ is also a light-hearted Pop song, with Lovato expressing love and gratitude for her friends.
As for the other two collaborations, ‘What Other People Say’ with Sam Fischer and ‘Easy’ with Noah Cyrus, they are comparatively slower and more pensive in tone. ‘Easy’ is a standout track on this album, a string-laden ballad detailing how the hardest part of a breakup is making it look easy. Both Cyrus’ and Lovato’s vocals blend well together and Lovato’s vocal power shines within the track. ‘What Other People Say’ is a track about the societal pressures that the singers are under, with the chorus in particular stating that ‘But now I’m fucked up in LA/ ‘Cause I care more about what other people say’.
‘Carefully’ and ‘California Sober’ are two similar tracks in their production, reminiscent of the country-style/folk genre blended with pop. ‘Carefully’, one of the best songs on the album, details Lovato’s desire for her lover to ‘Handle me carefully’ as the relationship can be a ‘Favourite dream’ if they do. It is a mid-tempo track with the highlight being the euphoric bridge of the song, whereby Lovato projects vocally to great success. ‘California Sober’, referring to Lovato’s choice to moderate her alcohol intake and marijuana usage. It is a personal song in which she realises that ‘It doesn’t have to mean the growing part is over’ in her journey. Like ‘Carefully’, ‘California Sober’ is a mid-tempo song with the highlights being Lovato’s harmonies a minute into the track.
‘Butterfly’, another deeply personal and reflective track, details Lovato’s conflicting feelings following the death of her father. She refers to an experience in which a butterfly landed on her finger close to Father’s Day, with Lovato finally realising that ‘You were never really graceful/Now you’re just what you’re supposed to be’. It is a beautiful song that formulated the theme of butterflies on the album art and is perfectly placed towards the end of the album.
Finally, the closing track ‘Good Place’, a stripped back song with only a guitar in the production, summarises Lovato’s current state of mind following the traumatic challenges she has had to face throughout her life. The chorus is the highlight of the song lyrically with Lovato stating that ‘Now I’m in a good place/Took a while to feel this way/No longer have to save face/Reconciled with okay’. It is a perfect finale to an album punctuated by self-reflection and pure, raw honesty.
Overall, ‘Dancing With The Devil… The Art of Starting Over’ is a beautiful journey of raw emotion, from the Prelude tracks like ‘Anyone’ and ‘ICU (Madison’s Lullabye)’, to the two closing tracks ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Good Place’. For the unfiltered emotion in the lyrics alone, this album is a timeless and stunning project that is not worth missing.
My top tracks:
1. Easy (featuring Noah Cyrus)
3. Met Him Last Night (featuring Ariana Grande)
4. California Sober