Slick, well-written marks of a singer absorbing and defying the boundaries of genre
Sarah Thomas
15:55 30th July 2019

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The R&B resurgence has dominated the charts with newcomers Ella Mai and H.E.R. turning a whole new generation towards its slow-grooved seduction. Yet, it’s Britain’s Mabel McVey who’s been rising to the forefront. The industry’s high expectations have been thrust upon her as they spectate how she’ll establish a career distinguished from that of her music heritage (including Mum, Neneh Cherry and producer Dad, Cameron McVey). It’s fitting then, that her debut album masterfully details her own High Expectations in a narrative that’s evocative, intelligent and empowering, capturing Mabel as the powerhouse 23-year-old that she is.

Catapulting herself into the UK top ten and US top 40 Billboard charts, the album’s lead single and ‘New Rules’-esque ‘Don’t Call Me Up’ served a first taste of the record’s girl power manifesto. Follow-up singles ‘Mad Love’ and ‘Bad Behaviour’ infused with vocals licks akin to Rihanna and danceable synths owing to its heady production inarguably performed as they further climbed the charts. But what lies below its commercial check-points are tracks fervent with the iconic 90s artists she grew up with. In a blend of buttery vocals, Mabel joins forces with Kamille on ‘Selfish Love’ for a marching beat and vocals runs to match the command of her muses Destiny’s Child and TLC. 

Infused within the narrative of self-love and heartache are tracks unravelling the tribulations of stardom. ‘Lucky (Interlude)’ is a thank you note to her fans in its harmonious melody despite her sometimes wanting to leave it all behind, crooning “when I wanna run from here, I always stop myself at the door.” Reminiscent of Ariana Grande’s ‘Breathin’, later arrives ‘OK (Anxiety Anthem)’ a brooding ballad to her struggles with the sometimes-all-consuming disorder. I first heard this song debut live as the starlet sung to a sold-out Brixton Academy, and witnessed her hoard of fans embracing each other as eyes started to flood for their idol. It’s an important track for a generation more open to mental health and defines her music as more than just alluring pop.

While millennial-isms permeate the surface on ‘FML’ as a slightly cringe mark of the time, the lo-fi 80s dreamscape on ‘We Don’t Say’ and the sultry down-tempo ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ are slick, well-written marks of a singer absorbing and defying the boundaries of genre. At its core, the record is unabashed R&B that deals with blissful and woeful love of being 23-years old. Yet, its deft pop production, 90s and modern vocal fusion nuanced with Lauryn Hill and Destiny’s Child is a record projected far beyond her years. It’s a classy, sensual and magnetic debut that hasn’t suffered under the noise of her chart-topping singles, more than meeting our high expectations.

High Expectations is released on 2 August 2019 via Polydor. 

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