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Camila Cabello: Camila review – tuneful and unexpectedly nuanced

Camila Cabello, Fifth Harmony member turned solo star.
‘Unexpectedly nuanced’: Camila Cabello, Fifth Harmony member turned solo star. Photograph: PR Company Handout

Her heart, famously, is in Havana, “ooh, na, na”. Camila Cabello’s head, however, is firmly on her shoulders, if her debut solo album is anything to go by. Tuneful, to-the-point and unexpectedly nuanced for a commercial pop record in which the writing credits are so lengthy as to require their own postcode, Camila proves that the 20-year-old Cuban-Mexican-American creative was wise to go it alone.

Cabello left the mothership of her successful girl group, the US X Factor-orchestrated Fifth Harmony, just over a year ago. Despite the bad blood spilt on social media, the story was as old as manufactured pop itself: talented and ambitious artist chafes at enforced group-sing, aims higher. Having co-fronted – and, critically, co-authored – two big solo hits while still in Fifth Harmony, I Know What You Did Last Summer, with Shawn Mendes, and Bad Things, with Machine Gun Kelly, Cabello’s solo success became an inevitability – one rewarded tenfold last summer with Havana (feat Young Thug), a massive international No 1 hit whose Latino sing-song melody required a forklift to shift from your head and, indeed, from the top of the UK charts for five weeks. Those “na na na’s” could easily double as a playground taunt tossed over Cabello’s shoulder to Fifth Harmony.

Originally announced last May, and given the working title The Hurting. The Healing. The Loving, you get the feeling this album has been refashioned in the wake of Havana, probably for the good. Old singles have been jettisoned, some reasonably (OMG feat Quavo underperformed) and some unexpectedly (the excellent I Have Questions).

The rejigged Camila still riffs hard on love gone wrong (the overriding theme when The Hurting… was mooted), with a processed sound that achieves cohesion, despite the many production hands on deck. Usually, the piano ballads are the nail-drumming nadir of the contemporary pop album, but here, Consequences exhibits greater-than-average originality. “Lost a little weight because I wasn’t eating,” croons Cabello; “loving you had consequences”.

It’s hard to carve out any unique space in the crowded female vocal market, but as the album goes on Cabello sounds less like Ariana Grande, more like Kehlani and, ultimately, herself: All These Years features a particularly parched Cabello warble, the smoothing impetus of technology allowing for cracks and fissures.

Watch the video for Havana by Camila Cabello ft Young Thug.

The raunchy come-hithers you assume have been dropped in late in the day can be as boring and samey as piano ballads. But here, Cabello acquits herself well as an R&B vixen. The frisky Into It feels like her next hit (“I see a king-size bed in the corner/We should get into it”), while Inside Out takes up familiar Havana themes. Amid mentions of south Miami and a reggaeton meets tropical pop vibe, an innocent-sounding Cabello aims to “love you inside out”.

In the Dark, meanwhile, works both as booty call and as a plea for intimacy: “show me the scary parts”, entreats Cabello. Best of all is the gently Latinate She Loves Control. It appears to be a profile of a heartbreaker “who lives for the thrill”, but works just as well as a declaration of independence from, say, an oppressive employment situation a certain singer has outgrown. “Control, hey!” shouts Cabello at the end.

This article titled "Camila Cabello: Camila review – tuneful and unexpectedly nuanced" was written by Kitty Empire, for The Observer on Sunday 14 January 2018 09.00am

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