Album Review: Madison Beer – Silence Between Songs

[Epic; 2023]

I’ve reiterated this in reviews past but in the pop landscape, an artist’s second album is ceremoniously the Big One; the project that is scrutinised and accompanied by multiple questions: Is the artist showing progression or are they content in their established lane? Is this album an exercise in experimental alienation or is it pleasantly accessible? Yes, the discourse surrounding the sophomore album is continually brutal and often proves a source of unspoken anxiety for the artist. When it comes to singer-songwriter Madison Beer however, her second album Silence Between Songs finds the artist honing in on her sound and voice to explore inner turmoil.

Proving a steadier, more swooning sequel, Silence Between Songs is a laser-focused set of tracks that finds Beer streamlining her sound into wistful orchestration, mellow guitar, jazzy flourishes and sweeping cinematic strengths. This cohesiveness creates an overall solemn and reflective sonic mood that pairs well with Beer’s lyrics. Her debut project Life Support contained a lot of righteous rancour with its ruminations on failed relationships, toxicity, mental health a prematurely-acquired world weariness. Silence manages to be sadder, lamenting her lost youth, the discrepancies between fame and reality and an overall unease about the realisation that once time has passed, its gone for good.

The album opens up with “Spinnin”, a contemplative waltz across an unspecified yet definitive moment in Beer’s life. “Did the world stop spinning? / Nothing seems to change,” she croons existentially over gentle guitar, breathy backing vocals and strings. Clearly influenced by 60s and 70s balladry and creating a sound comfortable for the aesthetics of classic Hollywood, Beer’s emotive vocals find a natural home here. Similarly, the synthy and cinematic “Envy The Leaves” is a beautiful rumination on wanting to be anything but human – she wants to be the “blissfully cold” snow and the leaves for being “unaware of the fall.” Beneath the metaphors, it’s ultimately about the craving of simplicity, of leaving human complexity and its accompanying anchors and traumas behind to simply breathe in the moment. It is this more expansive foray into the unfathomability of the world that shows progress in Beer’s lyricism.

Silence also finds Beer taking a retrospective eye towards her younger years and realising the damage that was done. Regret and remorse underpin some of the album’s tracklist like in, for example, the apologetic “Ryder” titled after her younger brother. An exercise in accountability, Beer apologises for her fame causing conflict between them over wistful guitar chords; “Didn’t know it then, now I do / Our youth down the drain / And I take all of the blame / For all of the countless times that you cried”. It’s a striking, intimate track that is all the more powerful for its specific audience.

“17” is Beer looking back to her younger self and regretting the passage of time; “My life moved faster than the speed of sound / Wish I could go there now and slow down”. It is clear that Beer has found wisdom obtained through having to grow up in the public eye and empathy for younger self (“I hope she knows / That I would never blame her / ‘Cause all she did was all she knew”), yet this still doesn’t necessarily heal the pain of time lost. The album finds a lot more depth in Beer’s efforts to heal her past and reconcile it with her present.

Of course, no pop album is complete without heartbreak and Beer successfully tugs the heartstrings even harder than she did on previous tracks like the iconic “Selfish”. A career highlight is “Dangerous”, a dramatic tearjerker that sees the singer lamenting loss over piano and strings. Hard-hitting and emotional in her vocal delivery, Beer paints a portrait of languishing that is utterly gorgeous; “Right when I think I hate you / Something pulls me under like the tide”. There is also an implied sense of accountability, of perhaps being the one at fault; “I’m still putting up a fight / While you’re off and you’re forgetting me”. Yes, there are some tried and true mentions of picking houses and choosing kids’ names which Beer, in a rather self-aware deprecation states is a “tale old as time.” Frankly, as shattering as this track is, it is such a great display of Beer’s talent that it is one easily returned to. Furthermore, it exemplifies how Beer unfortunately understands that love comes with terms and conditions that one cannot always easily fulfill. Even the melodramatic romance of “Nothing Matters But You” has an undercurrent of menace (“If you never stop me / Then I’ll just keep falling”) as Beer sounds like a wounded siren over the hazy production, lulling her love interest into the waters.

The album for the most part retains a slower, contemplative mood, however, it also contains the occasional foray into the bop-sphere. For example, the tempo increases on “Sweet Relief” – a mellow and ominous bop that would feel comfortable on Life Support’s tracklist – finds Beer caught in a paradoxical toxic love that she cannot break free from; “Take me high / Lay me down / It’s so reckless but this feeling is deeply profound.” The title track hits the sweet spot between allure, campiness and pensiveness with its rhythmic tempo, bass and electric guitar inspired by Old Westerns. “When it’s just me and my brain I medicate / That’s what you made me do / My broken heart it dreams in baby blue,” she sings in a mysterious two-part harmony.

The “boppiest” track, however, is the excellent dreamy and funky “Home To Another One”, where Beer reveals that the sharp glint in her eye hasn’t quite dimmed down. With glimmering harps, thumping beat and spacey aura, Beer dreamily wonders about the “what-ifs” of a failed relationship: “I know what I should say / I don’t think of you but I do / Oh I do.” The instrumentation on the song becomes punchier and funkier as she enters the chorus: “Call me baby / I know you go home to another one / Say you hate me / It’s okay boy you’re not the only one.” While not necessarily that unconventional, this still manages to be Beer’s most experimental track in her career thus far.

The major left-turn on this album proves to be an appropriately-titled jewel in the crown “King Of Everything”. On the epic track, Beer spins a yarn of exploitation and industry-based cynicism; “Look at you go, walking on everyone / Like stepping stones / Building a home made up of gold / Of people you hurt, bridges to Hollywood / You took then burned.” While frequently ruminative on fame, Beer finds herself comforted by the realisation that every king’s reign will eventually come to an end; “When the rain comes pouring down / To wash away your crown / You’re the king of nothing now”. Do not let the initial piano chords fool you either as the drama of the track is progressively heightened by electric guitar riffs that are clearly influenced by Queen – alongside its overall climactic theatricality. It’s the perfect finale: a biting middle finger to those who took advantage of her youth.

Silence Between Songs is an emotional and earnest project from the misunderstood Beer that displays maturity and a willingness to accept the past to move forward. While those who are expecting bops might find themselves taken aback by the lulling nature of the sound, Beer has opted for a generally more cohesive sound. While some tracks do run the risk of sounding samey in terms of production, the main strengths of this album lie in Beer’s powerful voice and transparent lyrics.