‘Tell Me You Love Me’ Shows Demi Lovato at Her Most Passionate

Demi Lovato knows a thing or two about cobbling together a hit. The former Disney star has managed to land high on the charts with singles from all of her past five releases, including 2015’s inescapable “Cool for the Summer” (“Confident”), 2013’s equally anthemic “Heart Attack” (“Demi”) and 2011’s uplifting “Give Your Heart a Break” (“Unbroken”) just to name a few. But although the starlet has flourished from single to single, her past five albums have all missed the mark as collective bodies of work, often hinging on one or two buzzy cuts while the rest languished in overproduced mediocrity. Not until “Tell Me You Love Me,” her sixth full-length effort, does Lovato manage to get it just right, enveloping each track with equal parts emotional rawness and long-absent swagger. It took her a while, but Lovato has clearly found her sound, and her sixth album might be the defining work she needed to reach the level of her contemporaries.

“Payback is a bad bitch/and baby, I’m the baddest … You fuckin’ with a savage,” Lovado fiercely declares over the album’s boisterous opener, “Sorry Not Sorry,” and we’re inclined to take her word for it. From its party-ready tempo to Lovato’s unrelenting braggadocio, “Sorry Not Sorry” kicks the album off with a generous double-helping of confident swagger and slick production. Those two qualities thread through “Tell Me You Love Me,” giving Lovato’s seductive lyrics a definitive sharpness on the equally buzz worthy “Sexy Dirty Love” while lending ample power to fiery ballads like “You Don’t Do it For Me Anymore.”

As fun as the up-tempo fare can be, Lovato shows off an impressive ferocity when she slows things down. Tracks like “Lonely” have Lovato putting her impressive range to good use while passionately crying out “You leave me fucking lonely.” It’s an exhilaratingly poised performance from Lovato, one that overshadows Lil Wayne’s quick but still unnecessary verse, which couldn’t be saved even by Wayne’s signature autotune effect. Lovato reacts to heartbreak not by throwing shade, but by throwing lyrical daggers, and each one seems to cut deeper than the last.

As passionate as “Tell Me You Love Me” is, Lovato doesn’t forget her playful side, letting it fly free on “Daddy Issues,” an ode to friends with benefits, and “Ruin the Friendship,” probably the best overall cut on the album. In the latter track Lovato raises the lyrical bar, urging a friend to press on with her to the next level. “Let’s ruin the friendship,” she coos while a relaxed beat lopes along behind her, making the request difficult to resist.

“Tell Me You Love Me” makes it clear that Lovato has finally found her voice, and it’s one of the better ones around right now. She has always been the go-to for a big single, but her sixth album finally boasts just the right amount of hits instead of relying on one or two for a shaky foundation at best. Confident songwriting and an even more confident delivery help this album stand head and shoulders above some of Lovato’s previous work, and at only 25, the songstress still has many more stories to tell and things to feel.

Tell Me You Love Me” is available Sept. 29 on Apple Music