Gracie Abrams’ Sophomore Album: Many Secrets, Not Much Substance

Those near and dear to me (or on my list of Close Friends on Instagram) knew how impatiently I had been waiting for this album. 

I caught Gracie Abrams first on my radar during COVID when I listened to ‘21’ and ‘I miss you, I’m sorry’ on repeat, her voice sweet and raw, her lyrics honest and wrenching. Abrams’ debut album, Good Riddance, produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner — a frequent collaborator of both Taylor Swift and Gracie Abrams — shortly after its release last year became the soundtrack of my life. And so, when she announced her second album, my eyes began anticipating The Secret of Us fanatically, not missing a chance to check the countdown on Spotify, to feel relieved as the secret was getting closer to being revealed. 

As a fan familiar with and faithful in her ability to narrate stories through music, I waited for the clock to strike 12 on this month’s 21st and the rest is how this review came to be about. 

Working in the same office as Soumil, I KNEW what I was in for the week after this album’s release. After hit singles ‘Risk’ and ‘Close to You’ came out, I had well and truly jumped on the Gracie train. 

This year has been huge for pop music, and I wake up every morning with the pop girls streaming through my blood. It has been banger, after banger, after banger this year with Brat by Charlie XCX, singles ‘Espresso’ and ‘Please, Please, Please’ by Sabrina Carpenter, the well-deserved and long-awaited rise of Miss-GURL Chappel Roan, HIT ME HARD AND SOFT by Billie Eilish, Cowboy Carter by Beyonce and even Older by Lizzy McAlpine. I had well and truly gotten my hopes up.  

I was damn near beside myself waiting for this album. And maybe this was my mistake. 

Abrams opens the record with ‘Felt Good About You’ — and it doesn’t come close to beating her first album’s opener, ‘Best.’ The opener is just the repetition of a few phrases placed on top of murmuring instrumentals and frankly, the track’s sole purpose is to lower our expectations and set us up for the upsets that follow. 

The opening verses showcase her lyricism and clean production. I was saying to myself ‘girls, gays and theys, we’re here and we’re ready!’ It is building to a big instrumental crash, a cathartic release… and then it stops? Upon each listen I remain confused that it ends when it does. It leaves me wondering why you would start an album like this… meddling and kind of boring? 

Just like Soumil, I was enthralled by the two lead singles. Even though Abrams had been on my radar for a while, these songs put her on the map in my mind as a pop-music girlie of 2024. But my god does the rest of the album just not deliver the same energy, vocal range or complexity.  

The promise of upbeat pop prominence that ‘Risk’ and ‘Close To You’ offered is something that is felt missing on the rest of the eleven songs, instead Abrams offers listeners a confusing non-linear narrative that jumps between different stages of a relationship — from getting her heart broken in ‘Gave You I Gave You I’ to being hopeful with a pinch of pessimism in ‘Normal Thing’ — all with a lack of earnestness. Overall, her storytelling capabilities are compromised. 

Now I’m no producer or musician by any means, and I think the readers of this article should keep that in mind, but I found that Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff disappointed on this album. Why is it so messy guys? I’ve listened to the entire album out load on speakers, in my headphones, in the car — you name it, and yet not once do I feel like there is any clarity or crispy production that I expect of these two powerhouses. 

I also feel that the production swamps Abram’s delicate and unique voice, which only leaves me thinking ‘what a shame’. 

The album also fails to deliver on the promises that Abrams had been teasing. Those up to date with her socials would know that Gracie posting snippets of the tracks from the record had become a running joke between her fans, with many half-jokingly accusing her of leaking her own album. But this pre-release strategy doesn’t do the album justice as the snippets happen to be the only song segments worth listening to. 

Although the remnants of vulnerability that she is known for shines in little pockets particularly in ‘Let It Happen’ wherein she declares “I might barely know you, but still / Don’t love you yet, but probably will / Turn me into something tragic / Just for you, I let it happen,” most tracks fail to showcase Abrams’ vocal range and even Dessner’s prowess as a producer, making the relatable, contemplative honesty in her lyricism fall flat on its face. A part of me wonders if it was too soon for her to release another LP since the album sonically seems under processed. 

I mean it, I’m sorry [not sorry] but Abrams’ second album gives me the same disappointment that my dating history in the first half of 2024 has; giving me hope to only leave me hanging. 

Taylor Swift’s song also didn’t deliver as expected. With The Big Three (Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff and Taylor Swift) to produce and feature on your album AND be featured on the title track of the album, you think that it would be a smash hit. But for it to disappoint was a huge shock. Not only have these three won big together but their friendship and work with Gracie has been a fan favourite in past times only for ‘us.’ to be (and I say it again) messy and kind of boring. 

In many of my favourite artists’ new music, I have a period of ‘having faith’, and yet with this song and the entire album I’m desperately pushing through to find that faith. After many, many, many listens, it’s still not coming around. 

The Secret of Us is far-fetched from getting critical acclaim. To add to that, it doesn’t sound like a recording that one would be playing on repeat or even remember sincerely as the year goes by. 

The thought of a Deluxe edition does not stir up excitement within me. Sure, I’ll give it a listen and yes, I will absolutely discuss it with Soumil at work. But do I expect to be wowed? Not really. 

It’s tough competition out there this year. I would be shaking in my damn boots before if I were to [hypothetically] release my own album this year. Unfortunately, the cream of the crop has risen to the top and this album is not up there with the rest. Comparison is the killer of joy, and it might just be one of the major reasons why this album is hitting as hard. As much as it sucks to say, it’s true. 

It feels harsh to criticise Abrams who is only slightly older than me and building an empire of a career, but this is certainly not the end for Abrams. Best believe, when she releases another album, I’ll be back at work adding its release date to my calendar. But I just hope her next project comes out after some revision in production, prioritizing the narrative at its core. 

By Soumil Sawmill and Olivia Hough

Header image via chuff media

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