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'High Expectations' review: Mabel's stunningly assured pop debut

Mabel's "High Expectations" on Capitol Records.

Mabel's "High Expectations" on Capitol Records. Credit: Capitol Records


High Expectations

BOTTOM LINE A stunningly assured pop debut that defines a brand-new star.

Even if Mabel’s “Don’t Call Me Up” wasn’t the biggest hit by a female artist in the United Kingdom this year, her debut album, “High Expectations” (Capitol), would still be accurately named.

After all, she is the daughter of “Buffalo Stance” queen Neneh Cherry and Cameron McVey, the songwriter and producer behind hits from Sugababes and All Saints. And Mabel certainly makes the most of that lineage.

Like Dua Lipa and Jess Glynne, Mabel has a powerful voice that owes more to dance music divas than soul or gospel heroes of the past. But she has more of a flair for the dramatic than her contemporaries, and her attractive mix of sass and cool calls to mind Destiny’s Child-era Beyonce and, well, Mabel’s mom’s “Raw Like Sushi” days.

The stylish synth pop of “Don’t Call Me Up” serves as a powerful example of what “High Expectations” can achieve, offering a direct kiss-off to an ex in the chorus, “I’m over you. Don’t call me up.”

But Mabel surpasses that with the sleek, seductive “Bad Behaviour,” which could give Rihanna a run for her money. The stops and starts of “Selfish Love” seem built for a massive dance extravaganza. And “Put Your Name on It” may be the best of Mabel’s dance tracks, taking the radio staples of island rhythms and delicate synths and making them distinctively hers, while still warning, “You know my worth, put in overtime.”

Mabel also knows how to make a ballad work for her, especially in the charming throwback ‘80s soul of “I Belong to Me,” which channels the simplicity of pop groups like The Jets and puts it in more contemporary surroundings, something she also does in “Trouble.”

Mabel certainly lives up to her potential on “High Expectations,” ready to join the  ranks of one-named pop superstars — from Robyn to Adele. 

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