First albums are tricky, no matter who you are. But when you’ve sold out Brixton and had two platinum singles before you’ve released your debut, the pressure not to put a foot wrong is off the charts. It’s to Mabel’s credit that ‘High Expectations’, her first studio album, knocks it out of the park.
‘Bad Behaviour’, the first proper track (track one is an intro) is classic Mabel – a volatile mix of pop and RnB with ‘massive hit single’ plastered all over it. The previously released ‘Don’t Call Me Up’ follows, a one-two punch of flawless chart material that shows exactly why Mabel has had no trouble racking up millions of streams.
After the opening salvo comes ‘FML’, a classic tale of love and heartbreak that also features Mabel soulfully lamenting “Fuck my life” over and over in the chorus. It’d be noteworthy for that alone, but it’s also an absolute banger, even if it’s not entirely clear how they plan on making a clean version for radio.
It’s a strong start, but the album stalls in the middle with a run of songs which, while not bad by any means, blend together without much to separate them. ‘We Don’t Say’, ‘Selfish Love’ and ‘Trouble’ all sound more like bonus tracks or B-sides than album material, and with the album clocking in at 14 tracks, a bit more curation wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Luckily ‘High Expectations’ pulls itself back into gear for the final few songs, with ‘Put Your Name on It’ standing with the best of Mabel’s output and the stunning ‘OK’ managing to talk frankly and emotionally about mental health without devolving into a downbeat, melodramatic ballad.
With so many hit singles before the album, Mabel could have just put them all on the debut, sat back and watched the streaming figures comes rolling in. Instead, she’s released a fresh body of work that stands up with the best of her output. It isn’t perfect, but it certainly lives up to expectations, no matter how high.