Celeste's debut album proves itself to be the sum of a truly magnificent gestation period, combining elements of soul, jazz and even pop into something that could quite possibly leave you speechless.
It’s been a slow journey for Celeste, the British-Jamaican musician who first appeared on Tieks ‘Sing That Song’ back in 2014 and Avicii‘s ‘Touch Me’ in 2015. In 2016 Celeste released her first solo single, ‘Daydreaming’, but it wouldn’t be until late 2019 that Celeste began to gain the fame and notoriety her musical presence has always demanded. Her win as the ‘Rising Star’ during the BRITs 2020, and her feature on the 2020 John Lewis Christmas advert, cemented her musical talent; there’s never been a need for her to prove herself. Yet, with her debut album, Not Your Muse, Celeste steps out into the limelight and establishes herself nothing short of formidable, offering one of the most soulful and poignant collections of songs from any artists debut I’ve ever listened to. Undeniably beautiful and enthralling at the same time, there’s very little to find fault on an album so brilliantly produced as this.
The album starts with ‘Ideal Woman’, a song that opens with subtle usage of the acoustic guitar, strumming with a jazzed relaxedness that leads perfectly into the raspy stylings of Celeste’s voice. It’s an easy introduction but provides enough melodic stylings to prove itself a great start to the album, as it slowly builds with a layering of sounds, adding elements of the piano and drums as it takes on a dreamy aesthetic. There’s nothing rushed, and there’s never a hesitation to drop away from the music and let Celeste’s voice take centre-stage because at every moment her voice is begging to be noticed. You wouldn’t be amiss in comparing her voice to Billie Holiday’s, but that’s not to say Celeste is some knock-off; she often feels like a progression of her. The stylings of ‘Ideal Woman’ carry into the album’s first single ‘Strange’, and the John Lewis Christmas single ‘A Little Love’, both exemplifying this slow dream-like quality, leaving you blissfully relaxed and calm.
However, while Celeste does slow and dreamy well, she’s never better than when she finds the harmony between more pop-centric sounds and her own mixture of jazz and soul. Easily my favourite song on the album is ‘Tonight Tonight’, one that opens with Celeste’s voice ringing out with song’s title and the accompaniment of some strings in the background. It’s stark because it falls straight after ‘Strange’ and immediately injects a greater sense of life into the album, no doubt helped along by Grammy award-winning writer Sean Douglas, who worked on Lizzo‘s phenomenal Cuz I Love You. While it’s a song that doesn’t truly showcase the capabilities of Celeste’s voice, it is one that puts her lyric writing skills at the forefront, making great use of rhyme and, dare I say, (the English student in me rejoices) metre. Celeste’s lyrics create an easy rhythm, enhanced by the use of drums wind instruments, that keeps that soulful element lurking beneath the surface, as well as less subtle poetic writing force. It’s not an overstatement when I say it’s my favourite track on the album, because it has easily launched itself into being one of my favourite songs of all time. It then transitions into the more recognisably jazz-pop cross over, ‘Stop This Flame’ that beautifully carries over the same driving energy and then appears again, although more subtly, in the song ‘Love is Back’. It’s only a shame that more songs don’t appear with the same energy, because Celeste knows how to write songs that make an impact.
Instead Celeste favours slower ballads, but that doesn’t necessarily weaken her credit, because she does them beautifully well, injecting a soulful air into them that makes the music much more than something derivative. ‘Beloved’ feels seated within Celeste’s own Caribbean roots as she works her way through moving lyrics and expertly maintained notes that add another dimension to an already diverse album. ‘The Promise’ is an unmistakable jazz song that never fears playing it simple and decorating itself in some great lyrics. Another great song on the album comes in ‘A Kiss’ feeling reminiscent of the great James Bond classics of the 1960s as Celeste works her way through lyrics like “there’s a kiss that means nothing, there’s a kiss, only means one thing, and there’s a kiss, leaves you wanting but whatever it is, it’s still a kiss”. It’s just such a great song so distinctly impactful that it left my mind wondering at the possibility of Celeste one day writing a James Bond theme song; her voice and style is so near to those earlier classics it would leave the track dripping with a deep sense of nostalgia. It’s just a perfect song, one that I love more and more with each listen.
After multiple listens, Not Your Muse left me wanting more from Celeste. Marking itself as much more than a debut album, I don’t hesitate in thinking that this may become one of 2021’s greatest albums. With it releasing on the same day as Arlo Parks‘ similarly brilliant debut, the two singers hit January 29th with a soulful punch. Fans of either will probably like the other, both a combination of elements that imbue a sense of love, hope and musical brilliance that’s hard not to stand in awe of.
Celeste’s Not Your Muse is available to listen to now via Polydor. Check out ‘Strange’ down below.