Holly Humberstone – ‘Can You Afford to Lose Me?’ Album Review

Photo Credit: Claryn Chong

Born in Lincolnshire, England thirteen days before the new millennium, Holly Ffion Humberstone grew up a small-town girl, playing the violin for the Lincolnshire Youth Symphony Orchestra. Some years later, she released two extended plays, performed at Glastonbury Festival and on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show, as well as opened for Olivia Rodrigo, Girl in Red, and George Ezra. The hype is on.

Can You Afford to Lose Me? is a Greatest Hits compilation rather than a brand-new album, collecting the finest singles from her two EPs Falling Asleep at the Wheel and The Walls are Way Too Thin together with two new songs – the sleepy, piano-driven title track and the acoustic, calming “Thursday.” Though the title track instantly resembles the “and I…” part from FKA Twigs’ “cellophane,” the new songs do little to distract from the 22-year-old’s familiar material.

It’s almost too easy to spot Holly’s influences. She has already released three covers as singles – Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees,” Sam Fender’s “Seventeen Going Under,” and a brilliant bedroom-pop take on “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince – and among her influences are names like Phoebe Bridgers, Bon Iver, and Lorde. Most of the time, Holly is playing it safe with tender piano, smooth melodies, and strumming guitars. Therefore, the record sounds great but is hardly extraordinary nor especially interesting.

Lyrically, though, the songs are put together in almost a conceptual way. We’re entering the album as Holly’s relationship is falling apart. On “Scarlett,” she’s using the weather to reflect on her current situation. She’s been crying all summer, waiting for the heartbreak to happen, and as the autumn arrives, she goes together with her partner like “bad British weather.” Anyone who’s even been to England knows exactly what she’s trying to say. It may not be the most original metaphor, but it works well within the context, even though the overall message generally tends to be a little ambiguous. On “Please Don’t Leave Yet,” the partner seems to have finally left, as Holly tries to convince herself that, “Maybe I’ll find a piece of you in someone else’s bed.”

Things start taking a turn away from hopelessness on the album’s centerpiece “Haunted House,” as Holly realizes that she’ll probably be alright in a few years’ time. But break-ups are rarely that easy to deal with, and although the album’s brightening up sonically, it lasts until “Vanilla” for her to realize that she’s been spending too much time on WebMD and that she in fact has her best nights without her far too “vanilla” ex. After this, Can You Afford to Lose Me? eventually loses its thematical thread, as Holly rightfully makes sure to include hit singles “The Walls are Way too Thin” and “Falling Asleep at the Wheel.” But it’s the album-ending “Friendly Fire” that steals the applauses with its cutesy acoustic strumming and show-stopping build-up, concluding that, “Teenage affection is often confusing // I’m starting to feel like it’s wearing thin.”

As critics often tend to do, I might be reading too much into the statement cited above. But if I’m allowed to overthink for a second or two, this compilation serves a brilliant purpose as a conclusion of Holly’s teenage years, as she’s getting ready for a career on the big indie scenes out there. Now, she’ll just have to find a way to stand out next to artists like Clairo, Julien Baker, and Phoebe Bridgers. Because they are also bored, ignored, and out of their mind.

Written by: Douglas Dahlström

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