REVIEW: Celeste’s soulful voice stands alone in ‘Not your Muse’

Album cover art for Celeste's debut album "Not Your Muse."
Celeste’s “Not Your Muse” combines her rich, soulful ‘50s reminiscent voice with jazz instrumentals and unique melodies. 
Photo from @celeste on Twitter.  

After winning the BRIT Award for “Rising Star” and the BBC Music Award for “Introducing Artist of the Year,” Los Angeles born, British Jamaican singer Celeste has finally released her highly anticipated debut album “Not Your Muse.” 

Evocative, technical and timeless, “Not Your Muse” reveals the soulful singer’s potential to secure her place in the music world as a generational talent and superstar. Her jazz-steeped voice acts as a stand alone, uncompromising — showcasing her artistry without the need for heavy background beats and intense instrumentals to enhance the quality of her vocals. 

With a whispering touch to her deep, mellifluous voice, the album begins with “Ideal Woman.” A perfect introduction to the artist’s work with a simple guitar instrumental backing her celestial voice, she sings “I may not be your ideal woman / The heaven in your head / The one that’s gonna save you / From all your discontent.” 

“Ideal Woman” is about refusing to meet the stereotypes and expectations that society’s gaze has set forth on women. The song is about embracing and loving yourself as you are, unchanged by those who want to tell you how you should act and what you should be.  

Delivering an intimate performance of “Strange” at the BRIT awards in 2020, Celeste’s chilling voice is backed only by a soft piano gently meeting her lingering, bold vocals with grace throughout the song — each chord as it strikes feels like the light pulse of a heart beat. 

Closing your eyes while listening will send you into corners of smoky jazz bars, empty sidewalks, tucked away coffee shops and places where moments quickly become memories. This song impeccably describes the nature of friendships, relationships and nostalgia for someone that once was in your life but is no longer. 

With stunning vocal resonance, Celeste sings “Isn’t it strange? How people can change / From strangers to friends / Friends into lovers / And strangers again.”

Switching up the pace from the previous ballad, “Tonight Tonight” features a snappy drum beat, a jazzy melody and Celeste’s sonorous timbre. Though there isn’t a lot of dynamic vocal changes and dramatic verse-to-chorus transitions, the song overall feels steady, fast-moving and repetitious from the drums to the strings. 

Bringing the heat to the tracklist, “Stop This flame” is the perfect departure from the previous song as it’s one of the more magnetic and upbeat tunes off the album. Though released in early 2020, this melody is still just as golden as it was when we first heard it. 

Celeste sings “My heart goes up, my heart goes down / We fall in love and we fall back out.”

Featured on the FIFA 21 video game soundtrack, “Stop This flame” is one of the songs that created buzz around Celeste’s name. From the vocals to the chorus to the jazzy instrumental, it’s clear her early inspirations and influences such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Diana Ross have impacted her lyrical style and vocal performance in this album. 

Slowing the pace back down, “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” is bold yet subtle and soothing. It’s also the first on the album to have a backup vocalist singing alongside Celeste in the latter half of the chorus, harmonizing beautifully. Igniting a fiery passion within her, the chorus bursts with energy and keeps a similar mood to the songs that came before. 

Simple, light and mellow, the title track “Not Your Muse” feels like a Sunday evening kind of song. When the song opens, there’s a soft sound of an acoustic guitar strumming and a slow whistle behind it. Then, an electric guitar chimes in, holding out some of the higher notes, giving the background sound a calming, lingering effect. Rather than bringing the chorus to a crescendo, the song has a beautiful delicacy to it, much like others on the album. 

“Not Your Muse” seems to transition flawlessly to the next song, “Beloved.” The beginning vibraphone ringing is so captivating and a sound you don’t often hear in pop music today. As the song winds down, it feels as though it would play in the end credits to a fairytale. However, there’s not much of a tone shift from many of the other ballads. 

How it ends is beautiful, with sonorous high notes that feel as though they wrap your mind and soul. Celeste sings with that same whispering, echoing tone to her voice she started the album with: “Dearly beloved, if I had my way / You’d be here to stay.”

Reminiscent of the brassy sound comparable to Amy Winehouse’s album “Back to Black,” Celeste’s “Love is Back” was released last New Year’s Eve. About finally finding a partner who sees the best in you and convinces you that there’s still hope for love, the song has a euphoric sensibility.

Another slow burner, “Some Goodbyes Come With Hellos” brings a mesmerizing, peaceful serenity to the tracks that come before. Charmingly written with a beautiful message, Celeste sings “Sometimes we can’t choose things we are drawn to / Ones we are bound to lose / No one ever knows where it’s gonna go / But some goodbyes come with hellos.”

“Lately” sounds tonally similar to most of the tracks on the album. The melody is slow, then picks up a bit for the chorus, and comes back to a dark, heavier-toned expression. It doesn’t bring anything unique or fresh to the other sounds and moods already heard previously. 

Though Celeste has an extraordinarily unique, soulful voice and timeless talent and “Not Your Muse” successfully showcases the singer’s vocals, it still feels like there’s some unfulfilled potential that the 26-year-old has yet to tap into. 

The full one hour and 18 minutes of the album were captivating and fresh in some moments but fell short of vocal range, mood and tone shifts in others. As a new artist, Celeste still has so much growth and potential to showcase her talent in new ways for years to come. “Not your Muse” is just the beginning.