Fun & clouds in Skylar Grey’s ‘Don’t Look Down’

Chances are that you’ve heard her before. She sang the opening refrain in Fort Minor’s “Where’d you Go” (2006), in Diddy’s “Coming Home” (2010) and in Eminem and Dr. Dre’s “I Need a Doctor” (2011). 

And she wrote the hook in Eminem and Rhianna’s “Love the Way You Lie” (2010) while she was living alone in an Oregon cabin.

“This is where all the inspiration came from,” Skylar Grey said. “Just being here by myself and thinking a lot and reflecting a lot.”

Grey has written harmonies since she was 2 years old — which landed her a handful of Grammy nominations including those for her work on “I Need a Doctor,” “Love the Way you Lie” and Kaskade’s album “Fire & Ice” — so it seems like it’s about time that she has a major label studio album; “Don’t Look Down” — which was released today, July 9, under KidinaKorner and Interscope Records after three years of production — is her debut album as Skylar Grey. (Her first album, “Like Blood Like Honey,” was released in 2006 under Holly Brook, her given first and middle name.)

And her new album even features some of the artists that lauded her work and launched it into national prominence. Eminem raps in Grey’s single, “C’mon Let Me Ride,” a catchy pop song loaded with sexual innuendos.

Meanwhile, Big Sean’s rapping and Travis Barker’s drumming accompany her vocals in the album’s first track, “Back from the Dead,” an electro-pop song reminiscent of Kaskade’s “Room for Happiness.” The whirling noises and drumming beat make her sound tinny and robotic, even as she sings about her emotions: “I’m so confused I don’t know what to feel.”

Perhaps those lines explain her eclectic range. Whereas “C’mon Let Me Ride” is about as catchy and subtle as Brittney Spears’ “If You Seek Amy” and “Back from the Dead” sounds so mechanic and recycled, it’s easily forgettable, darker tracks like “Final Warning” are vindictive and deliciously thrilling.

“Someone’s going to get hurt,” she sing-songs sweetly. “And it’s not going to be me.”

She has a knack for writing about abusive relationships — even though she claims the only one she’s been in is with the music industry. “Good afternoon, dear/ How does the rope feel around your neck?” she sings in “Final Warning.” No doubt this is the reprise to “Love the Way You Lie.”

The tracks change from the potential Top 40 hit to the lyrical and melancholy. Quieter tracks like “Love the Way You Lie Part III” and “White Suburban” — whose only embellishments are her voice and the piano — are beautiful, showcasing her impressive vocal range and storytelling capabilities. She sounds reflective, and a bit like Regina Spektor at times.

Which couldn’t be more different than the hip-hop beats in “Shit, Man!” or the pop-rock feel in tracks like “Wear Me Out,” “Clear Blue Sky” and “Religion.” (The guitar chords in “Religion” sound familiar — a bit like those in the beginning of Clay Aiken’s “Invisible”?)

But if she hadn’t already gotten accolades for her singing/song-writing abilities, or received recognition from artists like Eminem (who signed on as the album’s executive producer), it would be hard to market Grey; she masters a potpourri of genres and her album’s tracks seem as capricious and unpredictable as the weather. But whereas her first album has a more folksy piano/guitar singer/songwriter feel, “Don’t Look Down” is clearly directed at pop audiences with wide-ranging musical tastes.

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