Photo Credit: Hayley Louisa Brown
Open up the UK Top 100 albums chart on any given week and among the new releases and classics, you’ll likely find a handful of albums that you’ve never heard of that have spent months upon months – even years – on the charts. These are the sort of albums filled with tracks that soundtrack adverts, trips around H&M, and end up on regular rotation in gyms and nightclubs. These are the sorts of albums that few people actively seek out, yet most of us end up being exposed to whether we want to be or not.
Mabel’s 2019 debut High Expectations is one such album. Most members of the British public would likely struggle to name a single Mabel song, yet High Expectations has become a reliable presence on the British charts – having notched up 148 weeks on the chart since its release three years ago. Though its success at first seems perplexing given Mabel’s relative anonymity, it makes sense – High Expectations is an album of low-stakes dance-pop and R&B that can fit inoffensively on most popular Spotify playlists. There’s a high chance you’ve heard at least one of its songs without even realizing it.
Making this sort of music is surely a satisfying career path for any artist who wants a reliable stream of income, yet you’d hope most singer-songwriters would aspire for something more. Yet, there’s little to no sign of such ambition on Mabel’s sophomore album About Last Night. With production duties handed off to a dozen-strong, nearly all-male team – which includes reliable hitmakers like MNEK, Jax Jones, and SG Lewis – any idiosyncrasies Mabel may possess have been well and truly left on the cutting room floor.
There’s nothing truly offensive about About Last Night and, in terms of anonymous British dance-pop, you could certainly do worse (see: Becky Hill’s debut from last year). Most of these songs will do a more than adequate job on the dance floor (especially after one has had a few drinks) and it’s hard to deny the catchiness of a song like “Let Them Know” – which unsurprisingly has been one of the album’s biggest hits in the UK.
But ultimately, there’s nothing here as definitive as the early work of her mother Neneh Cherry. Any interesting ideas – like those explored in the first half of “Animal” are quickly subsumed into a tired dance-pop palette. Elsewhere, Mabel awkwardly incorporates slang (“No cap”) and cheesy motivational sayings without the Lizzo-levels of conviction required to pull off such a move.
Chalk it up to too many cooks in the kitchen – the 35-second opener which consists almost entirely of “oohs”, “ahhs” and “hmms” somehow has six writers credited to it – or a simple lack of ambition, but About Last Night gets us no closer to discovering the real Mabel. “I’m the definition of legendary, extraordinary,” she boasts on “Definition”, yet the truth is that there’s nothing here musically to back up such a bold assertion.