Ryn Weaver opens her first album, The Fool, with a song called “Runaway”, and you might as well. It’s not that her music’s particularly bad. In a way, that would be less offensive. It’s that, in a musical landscape increasingly defined by bold, innovative, and powerful female pop stars, it’s too bad Weaver will bogart airtime away from the artists who’ve pioneered the genre she parodies with an album cobbled together from their scraps.
Alright, I’m being harsh. Fine. Not every new album needs to be a bubbling brilliant feminist manifesto with a beat to boot. And sure, Weaver generated buzz for a reason. She’s lucky enough to boast a powerful voice with a timbre equal parts cowboy and Chromeo. But like any great tool, her natural gift means little if not wielded properly. On The Fool she’s a high school student holding a scalpel and dressed like surgeon.
Even as good as last year’s hit single “Octahate” was, it wasn’t that good. It excited us (or at least me) because—beyond the soaring chorus and Beyoncé growls—it promised a transcendent new pop star once Weaver had had the chance to further develop as a songwriter. Instead, almost a year later, she gave us “Pierre,” a country-esque folk-stomp Mumford rip-off stitched together from clichés both musical and lyrical. Even her dressed-up country croon isn’t enough to prop up that well-worn narrative about vagabond lovers and dancing in the rain.
Part of the issue revolves around Weaver’s inability to define herself. While songs like “Octahate” and “Runaway” play at establishing her as an avante-garde pop princess, she muddies her personal and vocal character on saloon-style western-electro-ballads like “Stay Low”, which opens with a warbled “whiskey lemon” as if she just invented the drink two minutes before. A synthy chorus and “half-a-pack” later, we’re left to wonder if Weaver has any direction at all beyond patchwork borrowing.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Weaver declared that the “new frontier of music is taking whatever you fancy” and creating a “bespoke sort of genre that’s just you.” Part of this attitude may stem from penning this album with producing supergroup Benny Blanco and Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos. Unfortunately, instead of utilizing the talented crew’s many particular strengths to create a unique and unified sound, The Fool comes out feeling like nobody in particular and everyone at once.
Still, Ryn Weaver has enough momentum that she’ll survive this lackluster offer with significant radio time and maybe even a Grammy or something. However, unless she ditches the earnestly derivative in favor of less-polished and more risky, she’ll find herself in a trick position—at her best, she’ll benefit from the reflected glow of other similar, more deserving popstars like Beyoncé, Lana Del Rey, and Florence Welch. At her worst, she isn’t worth the simile.