Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” was a breath of fresh air, as long as you didn’t think too hard about it. Dropped into a competitive Top 40 battleground trying its best to figure out how to incorporate dubstep and EDM, a body-positive call to arms wrapped up in girl-group duds with a hip-hop sheen stood out if only by sheer chutzpah alone. That Trainor’s attitudes were as judgmental and dismissive as the ones that she was embraced for as an antidote to (albeit aimed in a novel direction) was immaterial. On pop radio, hooks can forgive just about anything, and “All About That Bass” had them.
For better or for worse, “Title,” Trainor’s full-length debut, is more of the same. (In more ways than one, as it includes all four songs previously released as Trainor’s preceding EP, also called “Title.”) The Massachusetts-raised Nashville transplant doesn’t always know quite what she’s trying to say or how to say it, but she figures that she can sell it with little more than a smirk and a giddy bounce. In “Walkashame,” she expresses embarrassment at stumbling home the morning after, and then gets righteously indignant at the suggestion that she might have something to be embarrassed about. The sexual politics in “Dear Future Husband” are a sitcom nightmare, demanding apologies after they fight even when she admits she’s wrong, and dangling sex as an incentive.
Trouble is, it’s all just so infernally catchy. Of course, in the case of “Dear Future Husband,” it’s because she’s simply stripped the lyrics from “Runaround Sue” — which admittedly had their own sexist streak — and pilfered the song’s romping backbone seemingly whole, right down to the backing vocals and honking sax. But that’s Trainor’s gift and curse: She’s a plunderer first and foremost. Built on not much more than a simple, percussive rhythm, “Bang Dem Sticks” is more or less a rewrite of Ed Sheeran’s “Don’t,” with a horn line that directly echoes Sheeran’s vocal hook. She even steals from herself with “Lips Are Movin,” which follows the formula of “All About That Bass” to a tee, straight-up referencing her earlier hit at one point.
“3am,” meanwhile, finds Trainor aping Katy Perry, in that it finds her aping Sara Bareilles. But instead of delivering a self-esteem anthem like “Roar” (or a someone else’s esteem anthem like “Brave”), Trainor’s song is quieter and more vulnerable, racked with self-doubt that can’t just be sung away with a good pep talk in the mirror. When she steps away from pastiche, she struggles; John Legend comes through loud and clear on boilerplate ballad “Like I’m Gonna Lose You,” while she could be anybody at all. At this stage in her young career, Trainor has sass and infectiousness, but it’s all secondhand. And it’s not the same as personality. (Out Tuesday)
Meghan Trainor plays the Paradise Rock Club on March 17.
Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.