Serena Ryder was long overdue for new music when she released Got Your Number as a one-off single last fall. At that point, it had been several years since she dominated Canadian radio with back-to-back hits, toured the country, and had a stint as host of the Juno Awards, where she won three trophies for her album Harmony. The new in-your-face single amplified the gotcha factor that made Stompa such a smash, more-or-less serving as her Shake It Off with its kiss-off message and stomp/clap beat.
On Utopia, Serena’s sixth record, she embraces power-pop like never before with a series of big mid-to-uptempo songs that draw from two ends of the same spectrum. The album title is inspired by a First Nations story The Two Wolves about how each person has a light and dark wolf competing within them. The one that wins is the one you feed. Serena’s approach was to feed both in her attempt to reach utopia. The album touches on both light and dark themes that include the lift-me-up of Got Your Number and triumph on Ice Age to the numbing of the pain on Firewater.
And the hooks are endless. The album was made for instant enjoyment and it delivers, from the determination of Hands to the stadium-ready title track to the buzzing second single Electric Love. It’s back-to-back with earworms and it’s great! The unfortunate side-effect is that melody is often given priority over her vocals. Serena is arguably the strongest vocalist to come out of Canada in the past decade, but this album does little to highlight that. It’s not until Wild And Free that her powerful range take centre stage and you’re reminded of her abilities. A reminder that hits even harder on the charming highlight It’s No Mistake, the closest she comes to channeling her earlier material — which makes sense as it’s an older song she’s been performing for several years and it won a Canadian Film Award for Best Original Song in 2014.
Like Tegan and Sara‘s last record Love You To Death, Utopia is an album of deep-rooted lyrics wrapped in pleasant hooks and satisfying melodies leaving little room for exploration or experimentation. Where her previous works occasionally wavered off the path for that little bit of added adventure, this one stays right on track and to the point. It hits all the right notes but a little extra space would have gone a long way.
1. Got Your Number
2. Electric Love
4. Me And You
6. Killing Time
7. Ice Age
9. Wild And Free
10. It’s No Mistake