Alessia Cara – ‘In The Meantime’ review: an inspired blend of hard truths and tropical bops

Album three boasts what might be the best song the Canadian has ever written, proving there's still plenty of creative gas in the tank

“What if my best days are the days behind me?” Alessia Cara wonders towards the end of her compelling third album. Given that the amiable Canadian won a Grammy when she was just 21 – for Best New Artist in 2018, a victory that provoked a cruel backlash – this hint of a quarter-life crisis is kind of understandable. But, thankfully, any lingering doubts haven’t stopped Cara from making her most ambitious and surprising album yet.

Working with producers including Salaam Remi, a frequent collaborator of Cara’s musical hero Amy Winehouse, the 25-year-old has assembled a varied set that takes in everything from breezy bossa nova (‘Bluebird’) to mid-tempo disco (‘Somebody Else’) and funky breakbeats (‘Fishbowl’). “I might be too weak to fall in love / I might be too much for everyone,” she sings over a loping reggae beat on the album’s first full-length song, ‘Box in the Ocean,’ signposting the emotional candour to come. Cara’s songwriting has always been supremely relatable – her 2015 breakthrough hit ‘Here’ was embraced as an introverts’ anthem, something she’s admitted she felt boxed in by – but now it’s gained a newfound sophistication.

Cara has said the album has a “duality” because it contains songs inspired by feelings of “hardship and helplessness” as well as more “light-hearted moments”. In reality, the blend is reasonably seamless. ‘Sweet Dream’ addresses Cara’s crippling battle with insomnia – “it’s just like a vicious cycle,” she recently told NME, “because when you’re anxious, you sleep less; but then when you sleep less, you’re more anxious”. The track sounds wracked and wry as she sings: “Patchouli candles burnin’ out /  I try to meditate it all away / But damn, it is too quiet now?”

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‘In the Meantime’ also feels cohesive because a painful break-up is clearly a recurring theme. “I’m not even yours any more, but I deserve an award for getting over you – call the Academy,” Cara sings deliciously on ‘Drama Queen’, a tropical bop that recalls Alicia Keys‘ brilliant ‘In Common’.

At 18 tracks, ‘In the Meantime’ meanders a bit towards the finish, though there are no real duds here. Only ‘Middle Ground’ disappoints slightly – not because it’s a bad song, exactly, but because lyrics like “I don’t like boys… but I do” sound a bit regressive from Cara now. ‘I Miss You Don’t Call Me’, a beautifully fluid ballad that feels like an instant classic, could be the best song she has ever written. On this evidence, her best days definitely lie ahead.

Details

Release date: September 24

Record label: Def Jam Recordings

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