Ariana Grande has a great voice. It's a four-octave marvel that the 21-year-old former Nickelodeon star can take from seductive whisper to booming scream in a matter of seconds.
She just hasn't quite figured out how to harness all of its power yet. Her debut, "Yours Truly," from last year didn't quite use enough of it, too often making her sound like a Mariah Carey wannabe from the "Vision of Love" era. Her new album, "My Everything" (Republic), pushes Grande much harder in all sorts of directions to generally stronger results.
Luckily, Grande sounds good when she's a little uneasy. On her smash "Problem," she sounds on edge next to the hip-hop swagger of Iggy Azalea, making the song seem more energetic. She sounds a little freaked out on "Break Free" with Zedd, singing ahead of the beat on his EDM creation, but that ends up serving the vibe as well.
Sometimes, though, the pushing goes a little too far. On "Break Your Heart Right Back," Grande sounds lost in the middle of her own song, her vocals drowned out by the unmistakable sound of Nile Rodgers' guitar from Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out," a throbbing bass line, a stack of backing vocals and a clicking rhythm track.
Grande is at her best when she is only nudged from her ballad-loving comfort zone. The gorgeous hip-hop of "Best Mistake," featuring Big Sean, showcases her wide-ranging voice, without focusing on the upper notes too much. Once she can do this regularly, Grande will be unstoppable.
BOTTOM LINE "Mini-Mariah" stretches into her own style.