Mabel’s debut album has been a long time coming. In the past couple of years she’s been constantly tipped as “one to watch”, opened for Harry Styles on tour, performed on Jimmy Fallon in the US, had a handful of Platinum selling singles and released (and then re-issued) her brilliant ‘Ivy to Roses’ mixtape. All of which has piled on the pressure for her first record, the knowingly titled ‘High Expectations’.
Since dropping her first song on Soundcloud in 2015, she’s has steadily made a name for herself with her own brand of Afroswing-inflected R&B and pop. Collaborating with the likes of Jax Jones (‘Ring Ring’), Stefflon Don (‘Cigarette’) and Not3s (‘Fine Line’ and ‘My Lover’), she’s put out earworm after earworm, steadily climbing higher and higher in the UK charts.
But most of these aforementioned hits didn’t make it to ‘High Expectations’ (although some do appear as bonus tracks), so the bulk of Mabel’s debut album is new material.
The trio of songs that were previously released as singles continue to shine. Slinky, hook-laden ‘Don’t Call Me Up’ (which is basically the younger sister of Dua Lipa’s ‘News Rules’) takes pride of place early on. Electropop bop ‘Mad Love’ follows a similar formula of brilliantly brash lyrics and a powerhouse chorus, while the stomping, Love Island anthem ‘Bad Behaviour’, with its ‘Passionfruit’-styled beats and sing-a-long moments, is another catchy nugget of R&B.
However, many of the new tunes fail to live up to these previous releases. Despite its slick production, ‘FML’ feels lacklustre in comparison to earlier singles, and is stuffed with clichéd, yearning lyrics (“Got me wishing I was taking of clothes with you / two weeks and I felt so close to you”), while sticky ballad ‘Trouble’ lacks the sassy vivacity that usually permeates Mabel’s work.
It’s not all bad, though. ‘Selfish Love’ sounds like a chart topper waiting to happen, with it’s twinkling electronics and handclapped beats, and ‘OK (Anxiety Anthem)’ sees Mabel beautifully depict her own struggles with anxiety (“Wake up with a not in my chest / Tried everything to get out of bed / It ain’t working”) over sun-drenched tropical production from MNEK.
‘High Expectations’ is a solid album, with some extraordinarily good pop songs on it (it’s no surprise that ‘Don’t Call Me Up’ has been successful globally), yet it just feels like something’s missing. Mabel’s gorgeous silky vocals soar, the glossy production is stellar, but the exuberance and effervescent attitude that make tunes like ‘Don’t Call Me Up’ so brilliant aren’t found throughout.