The pressure on an artist tipped to be ‘The Sound’ of any given year must be difficult to live up to at the best of times. Being selected as ‘The Sound of 2020’ was probably not the big moment that someone like Celeste had been hoping for, a year where the big new act couldn’t tour or capitalise on early promise, so much so that your label delays your album by six months.
Not Your Muse was originally announced as a self-titled album that featured many of the tracks here, but none of the ‘singles’ that have been released over the course of last year were going to appear. That maybe explains why the vinyl release is a mere eight tracks and the regular standard album is at least 12.
Those four songs are probably the best place to start when considering Not Your Muse as a record, as these contain the three songs that have become Celeste’s most well-known so far. We have the enjoyable brassy-pop bounce of ‘Stop This Flame’ that has been weirdly inescapable to anyone who’s watched any football coverage in the last year.
We also have last year’s sickly sweet ‘A Little Love’ that sound-tracked the John Lewis Christmas ad. It’s undoubtedly the low point here, so if the thought of a Christmas Ad theme makes your skin crawl, don’t let it put you off the rest of this otherwise solid album.
And then we have ‘Strange’, the song that she performed on The Brit Awards. It genuinely is a strange song, with this awkward foreboding piano accompaniment offsetting Celeste’s haunting vocals. It’s easy to understand why she’s such an intriguing artist on this track, even if it sounds absolutely nothing like anything else here.
That’s the big problem, really. As a debut album I still have no idea what sort of artist Celeste either wants to be, or in quite a big presumption on my part, what her label wants her to be. The messiness of the track-listing just screams label-meddling to me. Perhaps I’m way off the mark, but it rarely sounds like a cohesive artistic statement, even as Celeste herself has written every song on here.
We are left with some jazz-influenced brassy moments like ‘Stop This Flame’ and ‘Love Is Back’, which work really well, but feel like ‘we need some Adele-a-like records on here’. There’s the more sombre and moody moments like ‘Ideal Woman’ and ‘Strange’, or the balladry of The Promise and A Little Love.
Probably my favourite moments that I think showcase Celeste’s brilliant voice and feel like her most confident place as a songwriter are the guitar-led acoustic or full-band soulful tracks, ‘Tonight Tonight’ and real stand-out ‘A Kiss’ being my favourite tracks here. Here she aims for a more soulful sound akin to Michael Kiwanuka, where her unique vocals aren’t swallowed up by the production.
The most direct comparison I can make to Celeste, and one that will mean nothing to the ‘real music’ fans of our very website is X Factor runner-up Rebecca Ferguson, I cannot shake the comparison in my head when listening, stylistically and vocally, they could be performing in the same band.
Not Your Muse is a solid debut album, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s not quite the cohesive showcase of her clear talents as a singer. It’s the one aspect of the record that makes it a worthwhile full listen, Celeste is truly a unique talent, I’m just not sure the songs themselves have enough depth just yet to keep me coming back.
Words by Sam Atkins