Celeste is at peace with discomfort. In the verses of “Ideal Woman,” the opening track of her debut album, Not Your Muse, the singer ponders on why she might be viewed as opposite to the ideal. Perhaps it’s because she’s “too proud” or “lack[s] patience,” traits that are unbecoming of a mainstream concept of femininity.
Whatever the reason, Celeste doesn’t seem to mind. “Please don’t mistake me for somebody who cares,” she snarks with a sweet affect. Throughout Not Your Muse, Celeste makes claims that might prove otherwise: she cares for past and future lovers, the thrill of the chase, and stellar big band arrangements. What the album makes clear, however, is that one person deserves love above all else: herself.
Radiating self confidence and assuredness, Celeste bolsters her existing catalogue of soft, somber songs with moments of upbeat glitter-funk and rollicking neo soul. The consecutive tracks “Tonight Tonight” and “Somebody Stop This Flame” show Celeste’s eagerness to dominate love, taking strides in pursuing and holding on to her relationships. Even while willing to carve out space in her body for endearment, she is still in charge.
Most of the record’s emotional beats come from the raw, husky voice of Celeste herself -- it’s why 2019’s “Strange” is still so affecting over a year later. The single -- which ultimately propelled her to win BBC’s Sound Of and the Brits Rising Star award last year -- is sparse and reserved, held through a rasping curiosity for a failed relationship. In “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know,” Celeste exemplifies her anxieties with booming instrumentation. “Everyday it gets so loud / Everyday I can’t turn around,” she wails over a crescendoing big band, pinpointing her struggles through an auditory lens.
Elsewhere, Celeste croons and sighs through pleas to damaged connections, desperate to make her feelings known on songs like “A Kiss” (“Bit your lip and left you swollen”) and “Beloved” (“If I had my way / You’d be here to stay”). On the sultry “Love Is Back,” she flirts with the idea of diving “head first” into a new crush. Even though her sense of self seems diminished here, there is still power to be had in taking charge of romantic fervor, whether it be healthy or not.
Coming as a high point, the titular track is where the ethos of Celeste’s body of work shines through. Starting quietly on whispers and plucked guitar strings, she admonishes a lover for not accepting her true self. “I’ll let you know when I need you to liberate me” she knowingly sings, as if she’s held this power inside her for a lifetime. The track creeps to a frightening crescendo, ethereal screeching surrounding the might of her confidence. “I’ll hold my pose / But I’m not your muse,” Celeste proclaims, rising high above a wave of criticism and judgement, showcasing the truest form of herself, and the care that it deserves.