If Camila Cabello has learned anything from her time in Fifth Harmony, it’s how to pen a radio hit. Similar to “Work from Home” and “Worth It,” the lead single “Havana,” which spent 21 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, showcases the singer’s ease in generating those infectious earworms that make pop music tailored for stadium-level intimacy (as in none) and heard, not felt.
So when the ex-Fifth-Harmony member originally announced her debut would be titled “The Hurting, the Healing, the Loving,” you might think that pop’s branded disease of generics might be cured, but “Camila” isn’t even a band-aid to this problem, instead filled with lackluster songs solely propelled by catchy instrumentation.
When straightforward phrases become cliché, there is no need to bore listeners by explaining its message, let alone writing an entire song about it. Such is the case in “Never Be the Same,” where droning synths meet cringe-worthy rhymes:
Just like nicotine, morphine, heroine. / Suddenly, I’m a fiend and you’re all I need.
To say the least, the lyrics bring Cabello’s songwriting into question (if you’re going to use “heroine” in a song, at least pronounce it correctly), whether or not she’ll ever trade the commercial success that’s been following her since Fifth Harmony days for something with substance and meaning while still being able to pull off the theatrics mainstream music demands.
First impressions aren’t always an accurate representation of something as a whole though. The layered harmonies that close “All These Years” are as haunting as the love Cabello details in the track. “Your smile’s just a little softer,” almost breaking while the first verse melts into the pre-chorus, a testament to the wear and tear of life’s progression and how the minutia becomes significant when a love is so true that it never dies.
Reasserting herself as more than just an artist who can listen to what the people want, Cabello devotes a moment to a past life and opens the door to vulnerability with the candor of her higher register and the sparse strums of the guitar. There’s promise in her prose, and “All These Years” depicts a chanteuse who works best when the lights are low and the air is thick with emotion.
However, you could call the personality of “All These Years” farcical; “Inside Out” finds Cabello accompanied by Calypso that’s reminiscent of “The Little Mermaid,” but fails to even compete with the heartfelt sentiment of the simple Disney movie. Maybe the goal was to market to the same audience though, Cabello mindlessly cycling lines that could only appeal to seven-year-olds with its reliance on superficiality and catchiness (“I wanna love you inside out/ Show me what you’re inside ’bout”).
The only distinguishing factor of “Inside Out” from all the other children’s songs? Lyrics in Spanish, which relent after two lines and merely mention her childhood city without expounding on any formative memories that would give another glimpse into her personal life.
Not all songs off of “Camila” are blatantly uninspired or exceptional. Torn between following a road of blasé feelings and paving her own road of self-discovery as a songwriter, Cabello blends her insight with banal words in “Something’s Gotta Give.” She attempts to make the all-too-familiar oxymoron “deafening silence” her own, opening the second verse by crooning, “I have never heard a silence quite so loud.” Not exactly a triumph, but it can barely distract from the maturity Cabello radiates in the beginning poetry of the track.
Your November rain can light the night on fire/ Night on fire/ But we can only burn so long
You can call it pessimism or cynicality. But one thing’s for sure: Cabello chose the path and words only she can tread and say.
(Album rating: 7.4)