Willow - Coping Mechanism review: Pop punk might just be her true calling

 (Dana Trippe)
(Dana Trippe)

Pity the poor children of the super rich, struggling to cement their identities beneath the shadow of their luminous parents. The unfortunate tale of Brooklyn Beckham has already involved football, modelling, photography and cooking. Meanwhile Willow Smith, youngest child of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, started out acting with dad in I Am Legend, and though she since seems to have settled on music, her sound and style has roamed wide. At just 21 this is her fifth solo album and sixth altogether. It’s a journey that began with the precocious electronic pop of her biggest hit, Whip My Hair, aged 10, and has gone on to try spacey R&B, psychedelic folk and shouty pop-punk.

With the latter, perhaps she really has found her calling. Coping Mechanism is her second album in a row, after last summer’s Lately I Feel Everything, to turn up the guitars. That one featured Travis Barker of Blink-182 and Avril Lavigne, but this one gets even heavier, with a climactic finale to Maybe It’s My Fault that features growling metal guitar chords and some serious screaming.

Willow has been keen to emphasise that this isn’t another whim, despite her looking nothing like the hairy white blokes who standardly perform this kind of music (not for nothing is the Mugler fragrance that she promotes called Alien Goddess). Jada released two albums in the 2000s as the singer of a nu-metal band, Wicked Wisdom. Willow says she’s been listening to Deftones and Lamb of God “ever since [she] was born”. So there’s no sense of her trying on a costume here. She sounds like she means every word she howls on the dark, dense Ur a Stranger, and even seems comfortable embracing industrial rock with the help of leftfield guest Yves Tumor on Perfectly Not Close To Me.

That voice, which has also made instantly recognisable cameos on songs by Camila Cabello, Yungblud and PinkPantheress, is an overwrought thing that won’t appeal to everyone. On No Control she lurches between gut-wrenching yelps and a soft falsetto and it’s exhausting. But when the energy and volume of the music matches her extreme delivery, it’s often great fun. Curious/Furious has a winning chorus, while Batshit! launches into its most thrilling segment with a perfectly placed pause for a shouted F-word. If this really is her niche, it’s worth her sticking around.

(MSFTSMusic/Roc Nation/Polydor)