Three. Two. One. album review: Lennon Stella leaps into focus

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Image belongs to Lennon Stella/Columbia Records

Lennon Stella has come a long way since her days on the country-drama Nashville. Though that show arguably did the work to ingratiate her as a familiar name to the general public, she hasn’t stopped putting in legwork since the show ended. The Ontario-born, Nashville-raised starlet initially sang alongside her younger sister Maisy, racking up views on Youtube and garnering attention for their covers and performances from the TV show. Striking out on her own, Stella landed a record deal with RECORDS and Columbia, turning in a breakout performance alongside Jonas Blue and Liam Payne on “Polaroid”, which made waves in Europe. Subsequently, she released her debut ep Love, Me which contained tracks like “Bad” and “La Di Da”, both of which captured buzz on Spotify and saw her establishing a mellow electro-pop sound in place of her previous country-focused work. In the next two years to come, Stella would land another standout turn on The Chainsmokers & Illenium cut “Takeaway” and she would team up with Sasha Sloan on the Meghan Trainor cut “Workin On It”, with the former becoming her first major appearance on the Billboard Hot 100. After two to three years of making a name for herself as a solo artist, Stella finds herself prepping her own debut album Three. Two. One.

The pensive “Much Too Much” reintroduces listeners to Stella’s more subdued sound, taking some influence from disco as she ponders whether she and her love interest have what it takes to keep their relationship going, and requesting honesty as she casts doubts on their stability. Her lyricism is straightforward despite some clever wordplay in the chorus and her layered vocals are breezy, serving as an indicator of the relationship’s grim outcome. Stella follows up on the theme of a failed relationship by following the aftermath of one on “Kissing Other People”, where she adopts the rhythmic electropop of Lorde’s work on Melodrama and meshes it with her moody sound. Stella muses upon whether she has progressed past being hung up on an ex after a break-up and notes that her lack of guilt when it comes to exploring romantic and physical attraction to someone else is a good indicator that she has finally moved on. Stella sounds weary on “Games” where she resolves her love interest isn’t particularly interested in her, he likes manipulating her emotions and she opts to put an end to the cycle. It’s a brief track that uses backing vocals from Stella sounding like an ethereal sigh and an arcade game motif during the chorus that sounds ripped straight out of Super Mario. She picks the pace up on the thumping “Fear of Being Alone”, where she concludes that she is clinging to her current love interest due to her insecurities about being lonely, rather than out of any sense of devotion. The production employs ominous synths throughout the song and distorts Stella’s vocals during the pre-chorus to create a breakdown where she repeats the title phrase, which both assists in producing a darker and unsettling mood that riffs on Stella’s anxieties.

“Pretty Boy” starts with an almost surf-rock like guitar riff before gradually adding in pounding drums and opening up into an uptempo dance track, with a synth that sounds like a warped electric guitar solo. Stella states her intentions to push past the superficiality of their relationship, both intrigued and attracted to his closed-off nature, but wonders whether it’s a ploy for him to entice her or if he thinks she is unable to deal with his inner demons. The production complements Stella’s fascination with her love interest, pairing a hypnotic groove with her repetition of the lyrics “pretty boy”, which she sings with the perfect level of dazed intonation. Leading off with piano and bolstered by a churning beat, “Golf on TV” sees Stella admitting that she finds herself unaccustomed but pleasantly surprised by a healthy relationship. She compares her confusion over people who engage in open relationships and expect pain in relationships to people who watch golf on tv, employing a neat trick where she harmonizes with herself on parts of the lyrics, making it seem like she is arguing with herself as she accepts her newfound liking for stability. Stella released a single version of this with JP Saxe, who co-wrote the song with her but is more than capable of selling the self-conflict on her own with the album version. “Older Than I Am” is a straightforward piano ballad where Stella laments that her experiences have caused her to grow up faster than intended and confesses that sometimes she wishes she could be reckless but ultimately finds that she is too responsible and mature to let go of her inhibitions. Though this is the only album that Stella didn’t co-write on the album, she gives an impassioned vocal delivery nevertheless, ensuring the song still feels just as much hers as any other on the album. On the album’s most upbeat cut, “Bend Over Backwards”, Stella draws a line in the sand as she makes it clear that while she may be willing to meet others halfway, she won’t allow herself to be defined by someone else. The production alters Stella’s vocals in the chorus, tuning her up so high that her voice sounds childish as she sings the chorus in an almost playground chant-like manner. Sonically, the track sounds like an even poppier take on Tame Impala’s recent work. Stella teams up with boy-wonder Finneas to co-write “Jealous” in which she corrects a former lover’s misconceptions that her efforts to move on are attempts to stoke his jealousy. As the shortest song on the album, the song is a lesson in brevity, as Stella doesn’t mince her words in trying to deliver her message, and the song itself largely relies on her vocal delivery where she sounds as if she were rolling her eyes while brushing her ex aside.

“Since I Was a Kid” takes inspiration from Lana Del Rey’s early work sonically but modernizes it even further, melding it with Stella’s warm and moody synth sound. Stella rejects past traumas and resolves to hold onto the optimistic worldview she adopted as a child, unwilling to allow the hardships of her broken relationship to shape her outlook. Her vocals during the bridge are dreamy and euphoric in a manner reminiscent to Taylor Swift’s vocals on albums like 1989 and Lover. Stella drafts her younger sister Maisy to sing alongside her on “Weakness (Huey Lewis)”, which begins with a childhood recording of their parents asking Stella how she got her younger sister to fall asleep and Stella responding to her sister simply fell asleep on her out of comfort. The first part of the track is an almost acoustic ode between Stella and her sister to the bonds of sisterhood between them, confessing their fortitude to facing the rest of the world crumbles in the face of each other’s sadnesses. This transitions into the second part of the song where Stella sings with a slight vocoder effect, attempting to comfort her younger sister in the face of their parents’ divorce, wondering where things went wrong but urging her to remember the good memories they had. This latter half is a fully electronic turn, though Stella’s vocals remain squarely in focus to the point that it almost sounds acapella, similar to Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” or Halsey’s “Hopeless”. Stella interpolates Donna Lewis’s “I Love You Always Forever” on the airy “Save Us”, which also serves as another sisterly ode to younger sister Maisy. Stella earnestly assures her sister that no matter where life may take her and what obstacles they may have to overcome, she will be there for her sister. The production perfectly manipulates the interpolation so it sounds fresh and wholly new, while Stella’s honeyed singing voice is a flawless match with Lewis’s eternally saccharine hit. On album closer “Goodnight”, Stella faces the end of her relationship but tries to retain hope, asking her lover not to say goodbye but to say goodnight in the hopes that they will see each other in the morning. The song starts as a piano ballad but picks up pace as it progresses, eventually culminating in an outro where the vocals speed up before the beat itself breaks down underneath it. Due to its placement, the song also serves as a musical goodbye-for-now from Stella to the listener, in the hopes that we will return for future material.

Three. Two. One. allows Stella to assemble a record with a distinctive sound, borrowing from other elements in pop music and meshing them with Stella’s languid and broody synthpop sound. Her strongest asset is her vocal performance as she proves herself capable with a unique voice that is rich and smooth like butter. She finds new ways to approach the enduring topic of relationships in pop music but also looks to topics such as sisterhood and morality to allow listeners to learn more about her as an individual. The album also serves as a tight effort sonically, though this comes with the minor setback of Stella sometimes lacking for diversity and variation in her music. Nevertheless, this is a terrific debut album that works to familiarize listeners with Stella’s artistry and sets her apart as an interesting new voice in pop music.

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