Being a wallflower has its perks for Alessia Cara, who over the past three years channeled feeling like an outsider — be it in social settings (breakthrough single “Here”) or her own skin (“Scars to Your Beautiful”) — into chart success and Grammy gold.
To the 22-year-old singer’s adoring fanbase (known as Alessians), she’s as much role model as pop star, dispensing self-love anthems all the more powerful for how often they foreground her personal struggles. On sensitive sophomore record “The Pains of Growing,” Cara acknowledges the pressures of that responsibility by crafting a record mostly about learning to take her own advice. “There’s truth in every word I write,” she sings on the lead single, “Growing Pains.” “But still, the growing pains, growing pains/ They’re keeping me up at night.”
On studio debut “Know-It-All,” Cara often addressed her subjects (teenage crushes, a rebellious streak) with broadly cheerful declarations of self-belief; her approach on this follow-up is more measured and introspective, her lyrical concerns more complicated.
There’s good reason for that; remedying the sometimes written-by-committee feel of her last album, Cara penned “The Pains of Growing” herself. A fair share of the 15 tracks find her working through a serious breakup (lick-your-wounds lament “Not Today” and weary “I Don’t Want To” stand out), and though some skew repetitive, Cara varies her vocal performances frequently enough to smooth over the weaker sections. If there’s a radio smash nestled in the collection, it may be “Easier Said,” a swinging chin-up anthem that serves as the album’s feel-good finale, Cara reassuring lovesick listeners that time will heal them, too. It's an earnest, heartwarming message to cap an album most appealing in its straightforward sincerity.