Album Review: Madison Beer – Life Support

[Epic; 2021]

Whether people want to believe it or not, the road to pop singer Madison Beer’s debut album Life Support hasn’t been easy. Although she was discovered by Justin Bieber and signed at age 14 to Island Records, she was dropped by the time she was 16, leading her to pursue the independent route to freely and successfully execute her own visions – before being signed again to another major label, Epic Records. The fact that Beer spent her formative years going through an unjustifiable amount of professional turbulence is important to consider, as it establishes the album as a triumph over tribulation.

The culmination of years of hard work where Beer has refined her writing and voice, Life Support is a lovingly-crafted project which explores mental health, heartbreak, toxicity and self-assertion. Primarily working with New Zealand producer Leroy Clampitt, the album presents an array of lush pop and R&B tracks connected through decadent orchestration. The soundscapes here are cinematic and cohesive, while Beer’s versatile vocals easily go from sultry to dreamily resonant to emphatically cold. There are a lot of emotions being processed and such transparency proves one of the record’s fundamental strengths.

Life Support opens with an intro appropriately titled “The Beginning” – a dramatic set of echoing vocals that provide a grand entrance into the album’s world. Then we find ourselves at the cool R&B-pop track “Good In Goodbye”, where Beer has no qualms about breaking up with a toxic partner. In robotic harmony over ominous synths she sings “You’re killing my vibe / In ways words can’t describe.”

Beer continues to call out shitty men elsewhere, such as on the propulsive “BOYSHIT”, which begins with cinematic horns before transforming into a funk-kissed middle finger to fuckboys. Over an explosive guitar riff, Beer reminds us “I don’t speak boyshit / You’re always coming back, but your love’s poison,” with such dismissal that you could take it personally.

On the excellent “Sour Times”, Beer reproaches those who take advantage of women in vulnerable states. “It’s crazy that you’d be down to be a fucking rebound, no / Ain’t even in my right mind, and you think that’s a green light,” she sings over whirring synths, before it expands into crashing cymbals and strings. This proves how Beer’s voice can often be a plush rug covering a spike pit – it can be soft but is concealing a sharpness beneath it.

The emotional centrepiece of this album, “Selfish”, released as a single over a year ago, proves a dramatic renaissance for Beer. Over lush strings and guitar, this is an epic break-up ballad that puts everything on the table. “Boy you’re such a lost cause / Now your name is crossed off / How you gonna fix this? / You can’t even fix yourself,” she sings frankly. She paints a picture of emotional exhaustion that comes with dating somebody who refuses to better themselves even while being aware that they are hurting people. There is some glint of sarcastic humour (“All you ever wanna do is lie / Why you always such a Gemini?”), but this song proves more than anything how emotive and powerful her voice is.

However, Life Support also finds Beer directing her gaze inward and exploring her own personal turmoil. On the smooth yet sad  “Stay Numb and Carry On”, she acknowledges that she’s “too young to hate someone”, but this hasn’t stopped her from internalising her pain over the end of her relationship: “I’ve become emotionless / My heart can’t help but wonder where the feeling is.” On “Effortlessly”, with its mysterious vibe and production of piano, harp, guitar and moody synths, Beer alludes to mental illness and pills: “Told you how to heal / Filled you up with chemicals.” One of the darker songs on the album, you can truly hear the pain in her voice.

Another standout, “Stained Glass”, is a 90s-influenced dramatic mid-tempo track featuring soaring strings and reverberated piano where Beer details her fragility after being mistreated and judged. As someone who has been in the limelight from a young age, Beer knows how damaging misconceptions about one’s character can be. “My skin is made of glass / But apparently it’s stained / Cause you notice all the cracks / But can’t look inside my pain,” she sings in the ascendant chorus. Even the way-too-short “Default” – a ballad that contains some of the album’s best orchestral work – is a tear-jerker where Beer admits “I know, this must be coming for me / I swear, I swear, I will be the end of me / The end of me.”

There are also quite a few surprises on this album that showcase Beer’s versatility. For instance, “Homesick” is a soothing, guitar-driven track about feeling like you belong on a different planet: “Counting the stars / They all feel so far / But it’s always felt like home to me.” It might sound comical on the surface, but Beer is emotionally earnest in its exploration of aliens and alienation. The song even concludes on a snippet from her favourite television show Rick & Morty.

“Emotional Bruises” and “Everything Happens For A Reason”, both coming toward the tail end of the 17-track album, delve into a classic country sound. The latter in particular is a dreamily cinematic song that leaves things unresolved as she sings “And what in the world did I do / To deserve such pain in my heart? / Guess it’s true, I’m never getting over you.” It gives us a reality check to remind us that although we can be so hurt by people, the love we have for them is hard to relinquish.

Life Support is a victorious debut from a singer whose determination and passion has allowed her to overcome any naysayers and detractors. While some tracks could stand to have their ideas explored more fully – in particular “Default” which ends suddenly right as things start to swell – this is still a satisfying listen from start to finish. As is the nature of this industry, Madison Beer will be compared to others, but she should be assured that her album stands out with its own vision and vibe that’s completely different from her peers. Worth the long wait, it is finally her time and the pop-sphere should welcome her with open arms.