Only 20, Camila Cabello is already a seasoned veteran of the pop-star wars. Born in Havana, raised in Miami, she blew up with the girl group Fifth Harmony, who formed on The X Factor before scoring superb hits like “Reflection” and “Work From Home.” Although Cabello was the most high-profile member of Fifth Harmony, this group wasn’t built to last, and Cabello broke away in one of the messiest, most shade-intensive pop splits of recent years. This was not exactly a love-and-kisses farewell: When Fifth Harmony performed at the VMAs last fall, they took the stage with an anonymous fifth member, then abruptly launched her offstage before they removed their hoods to sing “Angel.”
Cabello’s long-awaited solo debut is a personal statement, low-key and mellow even when it’s infused with the rhythms of her Cuban-Mexican heritage. Her massive 2017 radio smash “Havana” is the centerpiece, as she rides a steamy piano groove with Young Thug. Camila is sleek pop that gets straight to the point, just 10 songs around the three-minute mark, eschewing celebrity guests or big-name producers. Given the hit collabos she’s done with stars like Pitbull (“Hey Ma”), Shawn Mendes (“I Know What You Did Last Summer”) and Machine Gun Kelly (“Bad Things”), it’s a surprise is that Camila is so stripped down, always focusing on her voice. She leaves out some of the songs she’s already dropped, like the brooding “I Have Questions” or “Crying in the Club.” She also scrapped the awesomely melodramatic original title she announced: The Hurting. The Healing. The Loving.
Cabello doesn’t go for club bangers here – “Havana” is the nearest Camila comes to a dance track, yet even that song is a bittersweet reverie of diaspora romance. She gets intimate in the reggaeton lilt of “She Loves Control” or the light tropical steel-drum breeze of “Inside Out,” where she swerves between English and Spanish. Although she told Rolling Stone she aims for “a good balance of the emo and the happy,” this girl definitely puts more of her heart into the emo. Cabello has a real flair for melancholy piano break-up ballads, as in “Something’s Gotta Give” (“your November rain could set the night on fire”) or “Consequences,” where she ponders the high price of love: “Dirty tissues, trust issues.” She also goes for the Ed Sheeran-style acoustic-guitar lament “All These Years” and the sultry “Into It,” where she announces, “I’m not a psychic but I see myself all over you.”
Cabello really hits her stride in “Never Be the Same,” which sounds like Brian Eno’s alien-prog masterwork Another Green World souped up into
sputtering glitz-pop, with producer Frank Dukes (fresh from his work on Lorde’s
Melodrama and Drake’s More Life). Cabello whispers about how
love messes with the chemicals in her brain, over those ominously droning
synths. It’s Camila Cabello at her best – even at her most tormented, she
sounds totally confident and totally herself.