By Gemma Blundell-Doyle, Second Year English
Celeste’s LP Not Your Muse, released 29 January 2021 through Polydor, has bewitched a nation, allowing it to top the charts and become the first debut album by a British female artist to achieve the feat in five years.
With vocals that meld the best of jazz and soul, Celeste summons notes of Ella Fitzgerald on tracks including ‘Strange’ which transition gracefully into the likes of R&B bop ‘Stop This Flame’. Its crowd-pleasing potential was fortunately not left untapped in the midst of the pandemic, as the latter was chosen as theme song for Sky Sports’ weekend coverage of the Premier League.
Celeste has been on the radar of musical greats since the inception of her career. In 2014 she began by lending her vocals to electronic producers including Avicii, by 2018 she had reached the attention of Elton John who identified her as ‘quite something else and one to watch’ when he played her single ‘Both Sides of the Moon’ on his radio show. It was a fitting recognition for one who started to sing after first hearing ‘Your Song’.
In the interceding three years she has acquired a collection of accolades, in 2019 becoming the fifth artist to top the BBC’s annual Sound of … poll and winning the Rising Star Award at the Brits the following year. In 2020 she performed ‘Strange’ in the award’s so-called ‘Adele’ slot to a spellbound audience.
Her success has been highly anticipated and, while her musical talent is undeniably to thank, attention must be given to her personal style and stage presence. She dazzled with timeless elegance on Jools’ Annual Hootenanny 2021.
Another way Celeste can be seen to dominate the mainstream is through her appearance on the sound track of the John Lewis & Partners’ 2020 Christmas Advert with ‘A Little Love’. Celeste possesses the ability to imbue inoffensive mediations with sonic prowess. Her vocals have also featured on the soundtrack of Disney’s Soul with the warming ‘It’s All Right’ and their full cinematic scale were unleashed on ‘Hear My Voice’ which served as the lead single on the soundtrack of The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) - nominated for Best Original Song at the 78th Golden Globe Awards. It wouldn’t be unwise to predict a Bond theme song in her future.
This enviable early career had left me in no doubt of her ability to command big numbers but until now I had not had the chance to hear Celeste in a more melancholic key. One of my favourite tracks, the tender ‘A Kiss’, reveals the introspective mind behind the glamour and the delicate examination of romantic relationships is distilled into the sultrily simple ‘Whatever it is, it’s still a kiss’, bringing to mind the equally contemplative music of Arlo Parks.
The album’s continual reincarnation of the same thematic preoccupations is one of it a structural strengths. The ear grabbing ‘Love is Back’ presents a sardonic rejection of modern love which caters to the conventions of pop while summoning comparisons to Amy Winehouse’s iconic ‘Back to Black’.
Although this likeness is well attributed, I feel the commercial reliance on Winehouse’s legacy to establish Celeste as a generational best, may prevent new listeners fully appreciating her distinct uniqueness.
She communicates a wistful stoicism as she relives romantic foibles that resonate deeply. The first track of the album ‘Ideal Woman’ re-examines rejection presenting a refreshing determination to move forward. The lyric ‘You can’t be the heaven [in someone else’s head]’ is not the only piece of sage advice bound up in these beautiful melodies. Celeste engages with unrequited love in a way that echoes Bonnie Raitt’s lamenting ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’. There is a determination to overcome personal strife with optimism and self-reliance that underpins this album. She delivers poignant conclusions in songs that are so musically robust they could have been released in a past era.
In this sense, Not Your Muse offers us a portal back to the golden ages of soul, jazz and blues among others. However, it worth noting that the album is not a purely escapist endeavour and that there is a strong forward moving energy that gives it impetus. This can be heard best in ‘Tonight Tonight’ which bustles with the excitement that accompanies the risk of stepping into a new relationship, ‘And I’d rather be myself, although it’s never seen on show’.
If we have not seen Celeste’s full brilliance yet, I await further reincarnations her talent and as she embarks on what I feel will be a long relationship with a global audience I urge you to become acquainted with her.
Featured image: Renegade Music
Have you listened to Celeste's new album? What do you think?