At long last, something to fill the Adele-shaped hole in our collective hearts.
This year certainly seems to have wiped the slate clean for musical newcomers, allowing for one of the most diverse winters in years. We had rock-rap, we had indie, we had country, and at long last pop music has Soul.
After gaining a name for herself through London-based live shows and working alongside Finneas Eilish, the singer’s debut album is a timeless and exceptionally appeasing start.
The atmosphere and the voice
There is no great complexity to the album’s success – Celeste can just sing really, really well. The musical accompaniment serves its purpose well, offering for the most part a solid backdrop that lets the singer’s voice shine. The British singer’s voice covers a broad spectrum over the album’s massive 21-song, 1 hour and 18-minute run, and not once does it falter. There is the somber and quiet on “Both Sides of the Moon”, the absolutely soaring but at the same time jazzy peaks of “Love Is Back”, the unwavering fortitude of “Hear My Voice”, all of it unique in some right but not enough to become distracting. Whichever kind of singing suits your fancy, there is something here for you. While professional involvement is likely to be thanked here, seldom to debuts deliver such a consistent, and frankly experienced-sounding package.
What makes the Lauren Aulder collaboration “Unseen” my favorite, is how it seamlessly combines Aulder and Celeste’s voices with an unexpected combination of sax, synths and chimes to create an almost ethereal atmosphere. Just as importantly, it stands out as testament to Celeste’s willingness and ability to branch out and experiment, something she hopefully leans into on her future albums.
Whether experimental or entrenched, downtrodden or upbeat, every song here drips a dense and rich aesthetic. “Not Your Muse” is best played over a rainy Chicago night, the rain illuminated by the neon billboards much more than the meager streetlights. Even the weaker songs don’t sound out of place in a crowded 1920s jazz club, as the suave detective lead talks the mysterious femme fatale into revealing a mobster’s plan. Timely, yet timeless, a love letter to a bygone era of music that stands out all the more on the modern stage.
A pretty road well-trodden
The first listen here is absolutely exhilarating, and there is no better album to give a casual go right now. Whether an intentional ploy to appeal to a broader audience, or the byproduct of making such an ambitiously long album with little experience, it must be admitted that few songs ever actually stand out in their content. It’s about the standard package – songs about subtly dysfunctional relationships, a power anthem or two, a heartache ballad to top it off. It is to Soul what Morgan Wallen’s “Dangerous” was to country – a safe, all-encompassing retread of genre staples.
Seldom an innovator, but a great debut
What justifies it much more in this regard is, soul music needs reinvigoration a lot more than country. I only address this point in such length because it seems to be such a deal-breaking peeve for so many reviewers, which seems quite unfair given the album’s nature. As mentioned before, Celeste is certainly capable of experimentation. But even the greatest performers need to find their footing, and that’s what “Not Your Muse” is for. There is little to push the envelope, sure, but for a genre as niche and mostly forgotten as this, it’s just nice to just know that this envelope is still there.
While the album has only premiered on the 29th of February and it’s yet to really ripple across the charts, but hopefully its capabilities (and featuring in the Disney-Pixar movie “Soul”), rich sound and tar-thick atmosphere encourage more young artists to try and break the mold. Time and time again we see a vacuum opened in the charts, an opportunity to shrug off banality and bring about a new, innovative decade of music. It is with your support, dear listener, that such evolution is possible.
So find yourself a rainy night and a cup of your favorite hot drink, and let Celeste’s voice take you on a nostalgic yet robust neo-noir ride. You’ll probably remember the good parts.