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Celeste: Not Your Muse

★★★

Though Celeste is only beginning her career, there is difficulty in not regarding this album as a relatively middle of the road work. Some tracks will inevitably leave its listener startled, and such a precedent is set in the opening song, ‘Ideal Woman’. This exceptional debut opener unveils notions of self-assessment towards love affairs, and perhaps alluding to her awareness of the struggles of Black artists. Addressing the matter in a recent interview, Celeste stressed that “it is often a difficult feat for Black soul artists to get ahead in the industry compared to their white counterparts.” Although Celeste herself seems not discouraged by all of this, reciting the line, “Please don’t mistake me for somebody who cares.”

‘Tonight Tonight’ stands out on this album, but for the wrong reasons. Residing early in the track list is poor placement as the song feels remarkably detached from the rest of the album. The evident inspiration drawn from the likes of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald are abundant throughout her raspy delicacy and impressive vocal range, though this track seems unusually out of place.

Though making up for this, the phenomenal ‘Stop This Flame’ follows, undoubtedly one of Celeste’s strongest songs in her repertoire. Lines such as “You’ll never stop this flame,” and “You’re a pill that I just can’t trust,” are keeping in line with infrequent notions of personal exploration.

Further down the track list sits ‘Beloved’ and ‘Love is Back’, a pleasant nod to her British counterparts, and very much nostalgic of the late Amy Winehouse’s expressive phrasing and attitude. Production on ‘Beloved’ hosts the most depth in its mix; instrumentally, there are many subtle intricacies hidden under exceptional falsettos that complete one of the better songs on the album.

Nearing a total of forty-five minutes long, listening to this album feels like a chore. A debut should leave the listener itching to hear more music, though regrettably we are left wishing there was less. Celeste’s talent is impeccable and there is no hesitance in acknowledging her as one of the greatest female vocalists of our generation, although the thrilling potentials of Not Your Muse have not been met.

An underlying element is that Celeste is perhaps even overtly aware of the mentioned inadequacies, strangely discrediting any criticism. The title track itself implies Celeste is nobody else’s triumph, and the lyrics, “I can be bold…But I can’t be owned,” suggests she is looking to be released from something. Liberation from unattainable expectations seems a likely scenario that is situated in this showcase of exceptional talent, muddled in a rather repetitious collection of songs.

Image: Jim Dyson via Getty Images