Review: “All is Vanity” by Christina Grimmie

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We’ve just barely crested over the anniversary of Christina’s death. In the meantime I’ve done a lot of writing either about, or in promise to her. However, I’m keeping those details to myself. This post is going to be a little more forthright, a critical analysis of the post-humus album released by Christina’s family and producer on the day prior to the anniversary. I will analyze with as much technical prowess as I am capable, but please understand I have a limited background with music, so on that front it won’t be particularly detailed.

Also, this is obviously just an opinion.  You’re allowed to disagree, and I know many will because I approach Christina’s music, and indeed, all things I care about most, with harsher expectations than they probably deserve.

Lastly, I am keeping in mind that these were all incomplete items, finished, mixed, and mastered without Christina’s help, so I’ll try to keep a certain level of fairness involved when it comes to those things.

Let’s get started:

Sublime

We kick off the album with an upbeat, electro-pop love song.  The bass line is probably my favorite part of the song in terms of musical appeal.  We are treated to some solid rhyme-game during the bridge, which builds to one of Christina’s classic romps through high notes, all of the musical themes stacking on top of each other to deliver a solid super-chorus (my own term for the last chorus.  I know, I’m the height of technical knowledge).

I honestly don’t have much to say about this song.  It’s good, but not particularly amazing, especially in terms of the lyrics.  The rhyming is good, but there’s not much in way of message.  I understand not every song needs a strong message, especially in pop music, but considering the depth we saw in Christina’s earlier works (a la the “With Love” and “Find Me” collections), it feels a bit lackluster.  Ultimately I enjoy the song, but it’s hardly my favorite Grimmie track.

Next.

Steady Love

I commend this song for starting at a simple pace with modest, but inventive musical themes.  This one obviously wants to focus on the lyrics.  It’s another love song, but with a different tone from Sublime.  There’s a degree of patience and contrition in the words which makes me appreciate it far more than the first track.

I’m a heavy piano fan, so the bridge of isolated lyrics and minor-key piano already makes this one of my favorite songs on the album just for that alone.  Steady Love also gives Christina an opportunity to show that she can sing outside of a wild adventure of high notes, as demonstrated throughout.  She never leaves register and keeps each fall and rise of her voice under the strict softness which compliments the music so well.

The kick-in after the bridge is just enough, which is another strong point of the song.  You can sense the hit coming, but it’s not overwhelming, and tapers off beautifully into silence, a quaint setup for the next track.

Invisible

I have a particular fondness for “Invisible” as it was the first song released postmortem. It suffers from being part of her completely synthetic music phase, as well as being one of the many aforementioned, obligatory love songs she wrote (and unfortunately is not one of the ‘happier’ ones).

That said, the dominating synth utilizes a punchy melody, making it perfect for just daily travelling, doing random things around the house, driving, and even working out in the gym.  This is a catch-all song, with a mildly futuristic appeal to the music, and a hauntingly ironic message considering the singer is now gone.  It’s something that would have sounded somewhat boastful if viewed outside of context.

You can tell this song was mostly a therapeutic track Christina wrote for herself, to help her recover from some pain she’d endured in an unfortunate relationship.  It was written to empower herself against sadness, but when viewed through the lens of her death and the swell in her legacy after the fact, it carries a sense of having been anticipated, and that even in death she will continue to affect lives all around the world.

“I won’t be another ghost.  No, I won’t be invisible.  See me everywhere you go, no I won’t be invisible.  I won’t be diminished, eclipsed or hidden.  You’re gonna see my light blaze back to life.  Like a phoenix, rise.”

The best part of the song is her over-the-moon maelstrom of notes at the end, which despite having listened to the song over a hundred times, still gives me shivers.  It’s as though she’s performing again, but this time it’s not for us.  It’s to plant a boot on the neck of anything which ever tried to tell her she wasn’t good enough, and her having the audacity to prove them wrong.

Crowded Room

You can’t tell me this song wasn’t at least partly inspired by the soft jazz productions she did for The Matchbreaker film.  It has so much soul and sway, which fills me with joy, because I always liked the atmosphere songs like this bring.  They have a personality matched by no other form of music.

Best part, though?  This song has a superb message.  Christina identifies her own struggles with pride and vanity, two things she was aware enough of, and opposed to so fiercely, as to have the evidence tattooed on her arm for the sake of accountability.  Crowded Room does adopt more of a pop sound to walk alongside the soul and the church organ, but that’s okay.  Christina traverses the feelings of being alone in a sea of faces, trying to maintain your identity and ending up falling short.

“Here in this crowded room, I found everyone but myself.”

This one line captures much of what Christina was dealing with in her final years.  The tours she went on, they challenged her perception of herself, and that will be apparent moving forward.

Everybody Lies

We continue our metanarrative exploring self-identity with this song (a theme throughout the album, which is appropriate, because that’s what Christina was dealing with at the end of her life).  It’s important to actually look at the lyrics of this song, so you understand it is not *condoning* lying, only that it happens.  The fabric of the message is a “you’re not perfect, and neither is anybody else, and that’s okay.”  Christina encourages her listeners not to cast blame on others, because everyone is dealing with things, and that we should work towards more harmony.  At the same time, she maintains realistic expectations, saying you should trust, but don’t do so recklessly or you might get hurt, and don’t glorify people, because they’ll inevitably let you down if your opinion of them is too high.

There’s a secondary message in the song, more tied to the identity aspect I mentioned.  After we can get past accepting that we are flawed, don’t hide from your imperfections.  If you don’t like something in the world, start by changing yourself, becoming better.  She cements this idea in with a loose Bible quote: “Why gain the world if you lose yourself?”

Musically, Everybody Lies is encouraging, enthusiastic and doesn’t take itself too seriously.  There’s a sound which makes me imagine a toy factory while I listen to the song.  I love the honesty and purpose of this song, and it’s arguably one of my favorite Grimmie tracks to date.  I especially love the ending, where they edited in the last few seconds of Christina’s “#DearMe” Youtube video, which is universally considered one of her most beloved uploads.

“You are an extremely unique and individual person.  I’m telling you, don’t let the invalid opinions of others just bring you to the pits, okay?  You’re strong, so own it.

Love,
Me”

Pressure

If Crowded Room was the “wandering” to accept oneself and Everybody Lies was the “growth,” then Pressure is the “acceptance” part of this little trifecta.  A Christina now fully conscious of who she is, actively resists the cultural and professional pressure placed upon a person in her occupation and age group.  I have two outspoken compliments of this otherwise okay song: the music is simple, yet inventive, and there are several vocal cuts injected from Christina’s “Tell My Mama” music video (at least, I’m pretty sure that’s what it is. I’m not going to go back and check), which capture a side of Christina which is never seen in her music:

The fact she was a huge nerd.

“It’s like she thinks she’s an anime character,” high-school alpha girl says “She thinks she’s Zelda.”

Firstly, that’s a perfect thing for a popular high school girl to say as a condescension, because Zelda’s original source material is a video game, but you know, whatever.  Christina’s answer in the song is an appropriately confident:

“I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I’m not.”  Which would be pop-philosophy fluff, if she didn’t actively live that way as much as possible.  At that point, the fluffy words turn into substance, and that substance is the reason why even a year after her death, Christina has more fans than ever.

Maybe I

The vocal stride of this track is perhaps its greatest talking point.  Christina shows her skill as a singer in a different way from the rest of album.  She swings her voice around and hits beats in a fun way which we see in pieces of other songs, but with more emphasis in this one.

This song’s meaning, at least as far as I can see it, is simple.  Having now accepted who she is, what she can do, and who she can be, Christina is now dedicated to being the best.

Musically it is the least interesting song on the album to me.  I’m not really sure of what to say about it which could be outstanding.  I’m coming up short.  I’m sure somebody else with more knowledge of music might see some pattern or quirk in the composition which is neat or cool, but I’m deaf to it, so let’s move on.

Echo

This is the concert song of the album, and is the most aggressive track in terms of lyrics, which might be misleading because of its bright musical overtones.  The chorus in particular has a fist-pump and shout vibe which I can see capturing a crowd.  Similarly to Everybody Lies, this song needs to be viewed carefully or else you risk misinterpreting the character of the girl behind the lyrics.  This song is Christina reinforcing herself against uninvited drama and negative opinions of others.  It reads more of a self-fulfilling promise than somebody with ego problems, though I am not so blind to Christina’s humanity to ignore the fact that she was obviously really indignant during the creation of this track.

Doesn’t matter, because I still enjoy this track.  It has a fun sonic flow vaguely reminiscent of her “With Love” album.  I’m also fond of any song which harmonizes punchy vocals with the bass drum.  It’s an effect I’ve always enjoyed in music.

I Only Miss You When I Breathe

And now we’ve entered the territory of the “Side B” EP, which I, for the most part, did not enjoy.  These songs all captured the brief period of Christina’s life where she was obviously romantically wounded and everything rang of the ensuing emotional backlash.  I’m not going to shred into Christina herself for writing out her feelings about these things.  It would be unhealthy not to do such things, as they are often therapeutic.  But at the tail-end of her life, she had too many of these.

I Only Miss You When I Breathe (besides having a really gaudy name) is probably one of Christina’s weakest songs in terms of lyrics, with many recycled lines and substance which contradicted her overall character.  It talks of directly opposing the wisdom and advice of people Christina usually trusts, because she misses somebody who might not be healthy for her.

Musically the song is fine, if not particularly exciting.  It’s what I dub an “underwater” song, because it feels like you’re floating in the cold depths of the ocean.

I don’t much care for this song at all.

The Game

This song has a similar message as I Only Miss You When I Breathe, and comes from the same well of pain.  It presents more in terms of its rhyming effect and musical presentation though, which is good at least.  Also, Christina hits some killer notes in this song.

I have little to say about the flank of this album in general.  I think it has an incredibly strong front third, and a solid middle as well, but the last couple tracks (the Side B ones, especially) are underwhelming and leave the album, which has an overall strong and empowering meaning, on a distasteful note.

I care a lot about Christina and her music, which is why I am being so harsh.  My criticsm is not exclusive to her.  I am always hardest on things I care about the most, but my high opinion of her does not blind me to the places where she is lacking.  I criticize these things so harshly because I know she can do better.

Or rather, could have, if given the opportunity.  But we’ve talked enough about that.  I do love many of these new songs and will carry them with me into new days.  I will continue to fulfill the promises made a year ago, and thank God for the short time I had to learn about this person of such great compassion and heart.

Until then, God bless.

And as promised, the first one is still for you.

Something Sad, Like Usual – An Original Poem

Half my heart, the dark red part
Took my words when he depart
Senseless creature that I am

I tried to hate him from the start

Our child dear, I lived in fear
Might never know a father here
Yet I reared him all alone

In his face, you’d soon appear

A true man truly, all my life
My husband truly loved his wife
Boy, I know he’d love you, too

Had Death’s clock skipped him August ninth

His love was endless, his strength was not
He sadly left us here to rot
And though it might not be by choice

Every night he’s my final thought

Not yet old, no longer young
Still the words no longer come
My soul now longs for one thing only

The day we pass and you meet our son.

The Puppet Masters (#7 Dedicating a Book to its Character)

So, this is the he flyleaf of the most recent book I’m about to read:
 
“To John. Sorry for putting you through all of this. You did great.”
 
For context, John is the protagonist of a dark thriller franchise known, appropriately, as the John Cleaver series, authored by Dan Wells. John endures some mind-bending emotional turmoil over the course of the series, and this is the final installment.
 
As a writer, this hit hard. Not only does it act as an ominous foreshadowing for the pages to come, but the epistolary approach of the dialogue suggests an intimate and emotional familiarity with the character, referring to him as though he were real. Because in a sense he is, and this nuanced, apologetic way of approaching him shows the fondness and genuine pain the author feels not only about the history of the character, but his ultimate fate. For the author, John has evolved to the point that even as a character of fiction, he is worthy such respect and acknowledgement as is usually reserved for real people.
 
This is how you dedicate a book.