Originally written and published by me for PopMatters.
When Ben Platt released his debut studio album Sing to Me Instead in 2019, which borrowed from the traditional and easy listening areas of pop, the beloved actor and singer had already amassed an ardent fanbase of supporters across social media, due in large part to his appearances in films like Pitch Perfect, Ricki and the Flash, or his Tony Award-winning run in the titular role of Dear Evan Hansen. While the pop of his first record recalled the sound of perhaps Bublé, Sinatra, or even the showtunes of his Broadway forefathers, Platt’s compelling vocal ability as well as his openly queer lyrics were enough to generate cross-generational appeal, similar to Adele’s 21.
Even so, it was still predictable that the singer would try his hand at more mainstream pop for his sophomore album Reverie, preceded by the ultra-synths on its lead single “Imagine.” However, even for a musical figure like Platt whose stage presence and media personality are incredibly loveable, it probably would have better suited him to make a follow-up more in line with the sounds of his debut LP.
For Reverie, Platt once again collaborated with Alex Hope, whose emotionally gutting production of “Grow as We Go” from Sing to Me Instead was enough to propose some potential new gems. The singer also found inspiration working with Julia Michaels, a songwriter whose name has appeared on any number of successful pop albums from the last half decade. These attributes alone would have led even the least educated of listeners to assume that Platt’s first foray into mainstream pop would be just as captivating and enjoyable as his traditional tunes, but that’s ultimately just not the case.
It’s not so much that his second album is boring, but it lacks the spark of originality that Platt is usually able to sprinkle into an otherwise exhausted vocal style. Within Reverie’s first few tracks, consisting of “Childhood Bedroom,” “Happy to Be Sad,” and “I Wanna Love You But I Don’t,” the singer’s lyrics are reminiscent of existing Gen Z pop by Owl City, Lauv, or Alessia Cara but fail to make a distinctive or lasting impression. For songwriters of both Platt and Hope’s caliber, one can’t help but conceive that second single “I Wanna Love You But I Don’t” will go deeper than the title suggests. But it doesn’t. He wants to love you but he doesn’t. That’s it, that’s the tweet.
It’s a sentiment that recurs throughout Reverie: “Dance with You”? He wants to dance with you. “Chasing You”? He can’t stop chasing you. The biggest cringe occurs, however, on “Dark Times,” a ballad that on any other album would have had the powerful effect it’s going for, such as Platt’s previous single “So Will I.” But here, the lines “Tough times don’t last / Tough people do / So wipe those tears from your crying eyes / ‘Cause you only see the light shine in dark times” just feel insipid and, after the last year and a half that humanity has gone through, a little uninspired.
The same can be said for most of the record: not only does it not knife you in the heart the way that Sing to Me Instead did but it just feels like a half-hearted and almost immature attempt at emotional vulnerability, two adjectives I would have never predicted using to describe a Ben Platt album. Reverie’s strongest offering remains “Imagine,” allowing us to perhaps imagine future releases where Platt’s talents are properly displayed.
Jeffrey’s favorites from Reverie: “Childhood Bedroom,” “Happy to Be Sad,” and “Imagine”