Recording information: Britannia Row Studios, London; Circle House Studios, Miami, FL; Conway Studios, Los Angeles, CA; Grove Studios, London; Metropolis Studios; Mux Music Studios, London; Roc The Mic Studios, New York, NY; Santisound Studios, Los Angeles; South Beach Studios, Miami Beach, FL; The QuizLarossi Studio, Stockholm, Sweden; The Wendyhouse, London.
Photographer: Brooke Nipar.
Discovered after uploading several cover versions on YouTube, mentored by an R&B ladies man and an advocate of breathy urban pop, it's understandable why 19-year-old Conor Maynard has been labeled Brighton's answer to Justin Bieber. He may share a bizarrely similar backstory, but his debut album, Contrast, has more in common with the Justin that's since been lost to the big-screen rather than the Canadian teen idol. Indeed, there are strong echoes of Timberlake's Justified throughout its 12 tracks, from his fondness for falsetto a cappella lines and suggestive lyrics, to the slick, spacey, disco-funk of "Lift Off" and the dramatic balladry of "Glass Girl," both of which are produced by former JT cohort Pharrell Williams. His tender years and his rather awkward stage presence mean his Lothario routine never truly convinces, but that doesn't detract from what is a consistently strong first half, whether it's the sparse, seductive lead single "Can't Say No," the elasticated synth pop of "Animal," or the pulsing Euro-dance of "Turn Around," the latter of which features the man who's helped to guide his fledgling career, Ne-Yo. It's rather frustrating, then, that for an artist who has worked so hard to distance himself from the usual teen fodder, the rest of Contrast is as generic as they come. Rihanna clone Rita Ora lends her unremarkable vocals to the equally unremarkable dubstep-lite "Better Than You," the identikit urban-electro of "Take Off" fails to reach the heights its title suggests, and "Another One" is the kind of formulaic, synth-led R&B that has somehow resurrected Chris Brown's career. Nevertheless, those who have been waiting for what seems like an eternity for Timberlake to return to the music scene could do worse than check out Contrast, which although rather front-loaded, is perhaps the most confident and mature teen pop debut of recent years. ~ Jon O'Brien
Rolling Stone (p.68) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "[H]e displays a Bieber-like flair for mixing boy-band guilelessness with state-of-the-art R&B style."
Entertainment Weekly (p.77) - "Charismatic and certifiably girl-mad, Maynard compels on sexed-up singles like 'Can't Say No'..."
Q (Magazine) (p.105) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "[T]he Pharrell-produced 'Take Off' is sparkling, filter-friendly Guetta-pop while Rita Ora appears on the good-natured bicker-fest 'Better Than You.'"