You've got to feel sorry for Conor Maynard; fighting tooth and nail to get to the top of the music business, struggling to bump 'n' grind his way out of Justin Bieber's shadow. He'll be feeling the weight of that 'future of pop' tag on his shoulders, as well, of course. And at 19, trying to fight your way out of Justin Bieber's shadow is like going through school knowing that all the girls fancy your younger brother. Gah! How can such a young man cope with these emotions, on a global scale!? Maynard's not showing many signs of distress right now, though; in fact, there are probably other people in the world more greatly deserving of your sympathy.
What's important to note is that with music such as this, which is aimed so clearly, so directly and with such force, at the hormonal teen market, you're not evaluating artistry, you are evaluating science. The science of pop. The exact formula of successful pop music mutates and evolves over time but it almost always includes a cocktail of haircuts, vocoders, expensive trainers, auto-tune facilities, big choruses, the influence of former successful pop artists, lucrative guest vocalists, synthetic drum beats and manufactured sex appeal (of the kind that is specifically designed to make you question your own morality / sexuality / psychological wellbeing, should you fall under its spell). And by golly, the chaps behind Conor Maynard's album must have been working in the laboratory for some time perfecting this one. You don't listen to pop music and think "ooh, I love this one, it's got a great melody, I can really empathise with the protagonist in this ballad." You think "great song, chaps! It's a sure-fired hit!" and you light a cigar, in honour of the people that are going to get rich off of it. Or you think "I cannot hear the cash register ringing, here."
The secret ingredient of 'Contrast' appears to be the unique combination of influences that went into writing it, which, by our reckoning, were (in no particular order): Michael Jackson, glucose, and girls. And possibly N*Sync. The combination of influences is so strong and successful that we do not bat an eyelid, listening to a teenager displaying such a staggering degree of sexual confidence, as he does on 'Animal.' And on 'Vegas Girls.' And on 'Another One.' Talking of 'Vegas Girls,' the force of this pop cocktail is so strong that, upon learning that Conor had never been to Las Vegas when he sang this song so confidently, convincing us that Vegas Girls really are the be all and end all of femininity, you will forgive him, instantly. Because the power of his pop is so strong.
The only element of the formula that his producers seem to have got a little unbalanced is the 'lucrative guest vocalist' part. Ne-Yo and Pharell Williams both popped their heads into the studio but their efforts only detract from the power of Maynard. It's only when he's paired up with Rita Ora that the combination works, as the bleach-blonde vamp well and truly puts Maynard in his place, on 'Better Than You.' The chemistry of their voices is one of the more appealing aspects of the album. You can hear the cash registers ringing on that one.
The world has already decided that Conor Maynard is the future of pop (for now. at least for 12 months or so) and the world's hormonal youth is voting with its iTunes account. The fact that the album is a bit samey and only arcs on the last track, stepping away from da club and onto the therapist's couch on 'Just in Case' is neither here nor there. Hormonal youths care little for arcs and progress. They want to hear about his girl, "dripping in Prada" they want to know about the girl that's almost definitely going to upset him some time soon ("I know I'm getting closer by the trail of broken hearts," he warns them), they want to hear him trilling, like Jacko. Or Bieber. And they get all that in spades. Kerching! (That's the official sound of the cash register ringing).