Camila Cabello Keeps It Sweet and Simple on ‘Romance’
Camila Cabello arrived on the scene already groomed for stardom, having auditioned for the X Factor, and starred in the girl group FIfth Harmony. She released her debut solo album “Camila” in 2017, and blew up with her chart-topping hit “Havana.” This year, she rivaled those successes with “Señorita,” her duet with Shawn Mendes. In a fantastical popstar turn of events, Cabello and Mendes have started dating, which has inspired an entire new album from the smitten Cabello. “Romance” is a set of giddy love songs with little originality, but plenty pop appeal. They showcase a singer with no shortage of infectious tunes, still centering in on a sound of her own.
The songs are written from a very specific headspace, and Cabello wastes little time taking us there. In just over thirty seconds into the opener, “Shameless,” a sweeping chorus hits, as she declares, “Right now, I’m shameless.” What follows is a song about admitting you’re in love, and diving in. The production is appropriately epic, with a driving stomp of rickety percussion carrying the hook. “Write it on my neck, why don’t ya?” Cabello suggests, repurposing a bit from Fifth Harmony’s 2016 single “Write On Me.” This leads into “Living Proof,” the first of several songs she spends marveling at her fate with her paramour. The track is a sonic standout with a slickly syncopated rhythm full of handclap splatters. A mobilizing, stadium stomp and a catchy chorus make for an easy love song.
“Should’ve Said It,” in which Cabello sings about dismissing a former flame, is crafted like a noughties radio R&B track with a Latin tinge, punchy and full of layered vocal adlibs. In this case, there’s a bit of Spanish guitar, and a melody that recalls the likes of, say, Destiny’s Child. “My Oh My” has the same type of swing and mood to its sound as “Havana,” although not as infectious. In a call-and-response chorus, Cabello sings, “He’s only here for one thing,” while the backing singers rejoin, “Let’s go, so am I.” DaBaby drops by for a short verse, playing the male part in the story.
Then, there’s the centerpiece, “Señorita,” Cabello’s second ever collaboration with Shawn Mendes, which gives context to the whole album. Mendes’ light, gliding voice is an effective counterpart to Cabello’s impassioned spurts. It’s streaming success is no surprise, as it’s an ideal single for Cabello, tapping into the same Latin influences that informed “Havana,” just enough to give it some character and frame it in the associated lexicon, without rehashing the same format.
“Liar” is a festive tune, sampling Ace Of Base’s “All That She Wants” and Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long (All Night).” Thematically, it’s a reprise of “Shameless,” an affirming of newfound amorous feelings. Sonically, however, it’s on the other end, substituting breeze and buoyancy for drama and histrionics, with Cabello making light of the unease that comes with infatuation, coyly singing, “Oh, there you go / Making me a liar.” “Bad kind of Butterflies” finds the singer exploring this same unease more pensively over a spacious track, with a minimal pulse and ghostly, ambient sounds. “Easy” rechannels the sentiment of “Living Proof,” expressing it now in a slow number with some vaguely ‘80s pop production, worlds away from the vibrant punch of Cabello’s signature sound. “Feel It Twice” and “Dream of You” follow this sonic lead, nudging toward balladry and more general pop sounds. The former returns to the subject matter of “Should’ve Said It” in a less frivolous tone, with Cabello singing of relinquishing past relationships in light of the all-consuming romance. The latter is yet another snapshot of cloud nine, and the banal content, as heartfelt as it may be, has become quite cloying at this point, with a refrain of, “All I do, the whole day through is dream of you.”
Cabello is toying with a wide variety of sounds, and the selection of singles reflects the range of the album. “Cry For Me,” a tune about jealousy in the aftermath of a relationship, is an especially upbeat, ultra-pop ditty crammed with guitar solo indulgences. Things take a coffeehouse turn on “This Love,” a piece that could hardly be more generic, but is somewhat salvaged by the chorus, which finds Cabello passionately bellowing, “So fuck this love callin’ my name.” Come the following track, “Used to This,” she’s changed her tune, reckoning, “I could get used to this,” and her singing is the sound of cool composure, tied neatly together with production from Finneas, best known for his work with his sister Billie Eilish. Finally, Cabello ends with “First Man,” a consolatory song addressed to her father, in support of her new love interest. With lyrics like “I swear on my heart that he’s a good man… But you were the first man that really loved me,” it can get insufferably saccharine, but that shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
Camila Cabello’s overall sound doesn’t quite lend itself to any other classification than pop, in general. While the Latin influence that made its way into “Havana,” is hardly typical of her music, its an aspect that this album makes sure to keep at hand, emerging in little melodies, bits of instrumentation, and of course “Señorita.” Cabello has a distinctive style to her singing, but not one that screams for attention. Her R&B leanings are moderate and measured, and she inhabits a sphere at the center, with individual songs following widely varied pop proclivities. Her latest record is more musically focused than her debut, but can still strike as a bit of a hodgepodge. Lyrically, it could hardly be more cohesive, with the same few thematic threads running through all of the songs. Cabello set out to write an album about “Romance,” and has done just that. Yet, there’s little actual romantic value to be found in these songs, as they’re too generic and trite to allow for much. Still, every track is catchy, and the album shows Cabello steadily carving out a niche of her own.
“Romance” is available Dec. 6 on Apple Music.