It’s been a long road towards the debut album from Ava Max Heaven & Hell but it’s here. The set has been split into two sides ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’ with the two presumably revealing different shades. First we ascent and then we’ll descend. Join us.
We’re ushered into the Heaven side of the disc with a spelling lesson on how to spell the titular word. It’s a helpful preface but it’s unlikely that you’re going to remember this one at the end of the 15 songs.
Kings & Queens
This one looks to be Max’s next big hit. It’s easy to see why too. It’s a bold, adventurous pop song that’s so in-your-face, it’s impossible to ignore. That’s both a blessing and a curse. If you dislike it, you’re going to loathe it. Kudos to her for having the guts to take pop big again though.
Naked is the single that’s rolling out with the album. It’s an easy choice given the ’80s synth-pop revival that’s going on right now. It’s a sizzling mid-tempo with a stomping beat but just when you expect the chorus to go big, it coasts. “You can take off all my clothes but never see me naked,” she sings.
These synths have been pulled straight from Katy Perry’s This Is How We Do but Tattoo is better than that admittedly on-the-nose Perry song. It’s the first track that’s genuinely excited us, with Max coming in at second one with a strong melody. Is it too early to have nostalgia for 2010s pop because that’s what this is tapping into.
OMG What’s Happening
OMG What’s Happening is our favourite single from the rollout of this album. Max is guilty of giving so much personality that it becomes abrasive but on this cut, she playfully buys into that and turns up the notch even further. It’s difficult to tell whether the speaking bridge is painfully annoying or endearing and that’s kind of the point.
Call Me Tonight
It’s amazing how much this album drips with 2010s pop nostalgia. So much so that it’s hard to tell whether this music is a homage or just dated. Call Me Tonight is from an era when Jessie J still had a place on the charts and Kesha was still a synth-pop warrior. Whether that’s a good or bad thing – we’re undecided.
Born To The Night
Born To The Night is a collision of Born This Way-era Gaga and Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia. It’s hyperbolic and drenched in ’80s nostalgia. If Max isn’t a gay icon yet, she will be after this song. “In the night, in the night, I survive,” she declares. We don’t subscribe to the idea of a guilty pleasure but if there is one, this is it.
Torn seems to sit in purgatory. It’s neither hell nor heaven. We’re not sure why but that’s fine. Hung Up part 2 was one of the stronger singles released before the album but to be honest we’d forgotten it existed.
Take You To Hell
Down we go, journeying to hell on side 2 of the album. Funnily enough, Take You To Hell sounds more optimistic than Heaven‘s opener. We don’t want to call Max a satanist but she’s rather fond of tripping down to hell. Admittedly, this is a better opener than H.E.A.V.E.N., skipping along at a giddy pace. The hook is also a strong one.
Who’s Laughing Now
One thing you can say about this album is there really isn’t a weak pop song. Every melody has legs to perform on radio, it’s just that the production never feels like it’s pushing anything forward or creating a unique lane for Max. That’s why Who’s Laughing Now feels like it’s lacking something. There’s just nothing particularly exciting about it.
Now it feels like things are getting darker. Belladonna is a demonic, damning tune that conjures images of flames and leather. It’s absolutely ridiculous and surely she knows that with a chorus that proclaims, “Belladonna, Belladonna, poison is contagious, get you high in my cabana.”
Once again we’re plunged into a world of synth-pop led by a steady beat. The verses are great but the chorus is just painfully obvious. This is snatched straight from the illustrious soundtrack of Selling Sunset. We can just see Christine turning up in a Balenciaga coat to question Chrishell about something she heard at a broker’s open house.
So Am I
Max’s Sweet But Psycho follow-up sounded like a cover of Sweet But Psycho. It’s clever then that she placed it before SBP in the tracklist. It’s the freshest it’s ever sounded.
Salt is, much like the rest of the album, good but unremarkable. It’s a very reliable pop song that pulls out all the stops from strings to pitched-up vocals but it’s not going to be on the tip of Grammy voters’ tongues this year. Also given she’s included so many singles that dropped before the album released can we take this opportunity to say justice for Freaking Me Out.
Sweet But Psycho
The big one. Admittedly, we’ve heard this so many times that it feels like it’s grinding our ears but on first listen we had no doubt that this was going to be a hit. This is Max’s wheelhouse, creating this a-laugh-away-from-a-tear character. She brings the drama and the hyperbole and honestly it’s entertaining.