Mahalia – ‘Love and Compromise’ review

There's plenty of the former but little of the latter on this long-awaited debut, which sees the British R&B star perfect her trademark honeyed sound

“Compromise? What is compromise? Compromising for what? Compromising for what reason?”

This is the Eartha Kitt quote that begins Mahalia’s debut album ‘Love and Compromise’. Featured on album opener, the sultry ‘Hide Out’, the quote sees Kitt defiant, asserting that you shouldn’t compromise yourself for a man, and laughing and rebuking the journalist who asked if she would.

The powerful words perfectly fit the song, on which the British star sings about a relationship in which she was giving much more than she was getting back, and find outs her partner was messing about (“I was here the whole time, you were busy chasing / You don’t know what you had; I’m amazing”). But it also feels like a relevant quote for the entire record, as well as Mahalia’s career.

This debut has been a long time coming. Mahalia first signed to Atlantic eight years ago, at the age of 13, and has since steadily released a handful of EPs and stand-alone singles. Each one saw the now-21-year-old hone her own brand of emotive, soulful R&B; she’s consistently refused to compromise her sound. While we see scores of musicians jumping on the bandwagon of certain genres that don’t naturally fit their music, it feels like Mahalia has stuck to making the music she really wants to. And over the years she’s become an expert in it.

‘Love and Compromise’ is a gorgeous triumph. It’s a stellar debut album filled with intelligently written songs. Throughout it’s permeated with Mahalia’s gorgeous honeyed vocals and brilliantly honest lyrics, which shine whether she’s soulfully crooning over jazzy production (slow jam ‘Karma’) or fiercely telling a man to back off (the dancehall-flecked ‘Simmer’).

Highlights come in the form of ‘I Wish I Missed My Ex’, the brilliant 2018 single that’s now become a live favourite, which sees Mahalia berating a needy ex who just won’t accept they’re over (“Every time the weekend comes, yeah / I know that it won’t be long, yeah / ‘Til you’re gonna call my phone”). With its strutting production and woozy brass lines, it’s a slice of sunshine that fits neatly amongst the new tunes. Then there’s the excellent Ella Mai collaboration ‘What You Did’, which sees the two artists demonstrate their impressive vocals – with neither one ever overpowering the other – as they refuse to take back a cheating ex over ‘90s instrumentals.

Album closer ‘Square 1’ elegantly fuses gospel backing vocals with jangling neo-soul piano riffs, with Mahalia including a spoken-word section that sees her airing her frustration after “going back to square one” with a partner, before eventually calling the whole thing off. It’s not only a wicked song, but also full of frank and relatable lyrics, which, as demonstrated on ‘Love and Compromise’,  are among Mahalia’s greatest weapons.

Never compromising herself or her sound, Mahalia has produced a debut album filled with dazzling songs. Just don’t make us wait so long next time.