Betty Who’s more interesting music is found on earlier releases.
Australian recording artist Jessica Anne Newham, better known by her stage name Betty Who, is involved in the writing process for all of her pop music. Getting the music more directly from an artist always provides a nice little window into the psyche behind a voice, and while Betty Who’s sophomore full length isn’t the strongest pop record you’ll hear this year, the songs themselves, which could feel a bit producer-driven at times, have a certain cachet with the knowledge that Newham was at the wheel for better or worse.
Betty Who’s previous full-length, Take Me When You Go, and two EPs, The Movement and Slow Dancing, offered pop music that had yet to make its radio push. Honest, genuine, sometimes sweet and occasionally beautiful, those three releases had all the glitz and glam of radio pop without all the silly clichés and catchphrases used to string together annoying,The Wrath of Khan-like earworms that hardly ever offer much in the way of substance. With The Valley, it seems everyone involved is ready to catapult Betty Who into the shark tank of radio. Between lines like “Don’t start shit/ There won’t be no shit” and “Oh, why don’t you come over?” it’s clear Newham and company were trying to strike familiar chords with listeners willing to take new versions of tracks they’ve already heard before. No one can begrudge an artist for trying to broaden their audience, or make big bags of money, but when you compare the earlier material to a sound that is now so much more standard and reaching for mass accessibility, The Valley comes off as a bit of a bummer.
That overall impression of The Valley’s vibe shouldn’t, however, make anyone believe there aren’t excellent radio pop songs on the album. The title track alone, a hyper-layered and harmonized vocal track is lovely. It’s a bit reminiscent of what Sara Bareilles did for the opener on Kaleidoscope Heart, but, hey, that track was beautiful and another one like it doesn’t hurt. “You Can Cry Tomorrow” has a driving beat and a sense of melodrama that’ll play your heartstrings like a fiddle. Think the Naked and Famous’ “Young Blood” mixed with some Timberlake-like falsetto. “Wanna Be” is a tremendous ballad that offers huge hooks with a full display of Newham’s vocal talents. “Pretend You’re Missing Me” has some solid noise pop beats and sizzling electronics. “Make You Memories” is the most genuine single-ready track The Valley has to offer, and, as an added bonus, Newham and company have put together a fairly amazing cover of Donna Lewis’ “I Love You Always Forever,” which itself could be a backdoor radio hit.
There’s a good portion of The Valley that feels like progress from Betty Who’s previous material. But there’s also a few distracting tracks that feel a bit cheap with their attempt to leap into Radioland. But, in the end, The Valley is a fine sophomore LP, even if Betty Who’s more interesting music is found on earlier releases.