Mabel arrived on the scene with the infectious Finders Keepers, a sleek R&B tune featuring Kojo Funds which dominated urban radio, and followed this with a series of collaborations with Not3s that played on collective memories of Ja Rule and Ashanti. But these tracks are relegated to a bonus section: High Expectations is all new material and, for the most part, a more poppy sound.
Lead singles Don’t Call Me Up and Mad Love are both prime examples of this, all bouncy synths and repetitive vocal hooks that burrow into the ear, and both co-written by Steve Mac of Shape Of You fame. We Don’t Say… has moody production reminiscent of a Drake track as the lyrics dwell on a relationship marred by pride and miscommunication, while FML straddles a neat balance between anthemic and snappy in its delivery (“never knew that one thing could f**k my life like this / I’m telling everyone about it, and you don’t even care about it”) over a restless beat.
Some songs don’t make as much of an impact, such as Bad Behaviour and Trouble which feel like they’re waiting for a bigger moment that never arrives. Meanwhile Stckhlm Syndrome (Interlude) has such brilliant trap-style production by Snakehips that, as well as deserving to be more than an interlude, it leaves some of the surrounding tracks feeling a bit flat by comparison.
The record ends on a more lowkey note, MNEK’s co-write OK (Anxiety Anthem) bringing the style of Mabel’s initial singles back and I Belong To Me’s gospel-tinged chords underscoring a soulful vocal performance a la Jorja Smith. As a debut album it goes over well, with a convincing display of versatility and quality songwriting that firmly establishes Mabel as a force to be reckoned with in UK pop.