Album Reviews

Mahalia – IRL

(Warner Music UK) UK release date: 14 July 2023


Second album by R&B artist is an assured, charismatic release that convincingly embodies several styles

Mahalia - IRL One lesser-noticed side effect of the coronavirus pandemic is that artists became more reclusive – in those distinctly abnormal times, many decided it was best to quietly work on new music that would come out when staples such as interviews and touring could resume properly. On that note, most casual listeners won’t have heard of Mahalia since 2019’s bubbling-under hit Simmer with Burna Boy, and on her long-awaited second album she delivers sensual R&B tunes with help from producer JD Reid and a well-picked guest list.

The influence of SZA looms large on several of these tracks, particularly when the subject matter is that guy she just can’t dump for good (“I wanna leave it alone, but I don’t know if I can / if only you had never done wrong, you could always be right in my head”). Terms And Conditions is a spicy RAYE co-write focussing on her requirements for a potential partner, while Cheat’s watery guitar and throwback vibe make it a highlight of IRL and one of the best R&B songs of the year so far.

Isn’t It Strange? is perhaps the most lyrically interesting point of the record, as Mahalia outlines the various contradictions in her attitude to life (“isn’t that strange? / I don’t like you, but care what you say / need someone new, but I hate change / I love my city, but I ran away”), and features a shimmying synth-laced beat courtesy of GRADES. November is a shining example of doing a lot with a little, as the stop-start waltzing metre is simple but so beautifully effective and the chemistry between her and Stormzy’s bashful croon is palpable.

IRL convincingly embodies several styles across its 45-minute runtime – Hey Stranger has a lush, moody vibe, heavy on the reverb and muffled percussion, and a few tracks down Wassup serves a delicious Soul For Real sample under some flirty lyrics. By the time we reach the album’s closing track, the stripped-back arrangement and autobiographical angle are a completely justified indulgence, with Mahalia reminiscing on the days when making money for her music was a distant dream.

The Leicestershire-born singer may not get as much press with IRL as some other R&B acts, but it’s an assured, charismatic release with a consistency that sets her above her contemporaries.


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Mahalia – IRL