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Mabel’s About Last Night... is a dance floor liberation record with none of the urgency

"About Last Night..."

Release date: 15 July 2022
Mabel About Last Night
12 July 2022, 10:31 Written by Dave Russell
During the pandemic lockdowns, Mabel was in turmoil. She was burnt out following a sold out tour and BRIT award win. As music venues shut down and everything ground to a halt, she found inspiration in the likes of Paris Is Burning, Pose, and Rupaul's Drag Race.

In the aforementioned seminal 1990 documentary Paris is Burning, drag queen and house mother Dorian Corey discusses the power of the ballroom community that the film explores; describing a space where disenfranchised queer kids can emobdy an ideal of wealth, privilege and status that they would otherwise struggle to find in the outside world. “In a ballroom,” Corey says, “you can be anything you want.” On About Last Night... – a record that claims to be indebted to the ballroom culture in attitude and aesthetic – it’s not clear what Mabel wants to be, or why she wants to be anything different in the first place.

Unfortunately, very little of the vibrancy of these cultures and spaces has been translated into the resulting album. Conceived as an imagined chronicle of the ‘best night out that never was’ during the lockdowns of the pandemic, About Last Night... is almost completely devoid of charisma, uniqueness or nerve; and while Mabel clearly has talent as a singer and performer, it’s smothered under the weight of generic, radio-pandering production and derivative genre cosplay.

Opening with the ABBA-inspired “Animal,” Mabel gets directly to the point she wants to make, describing a fierce woman who “comes alive at night” – until she flips the perspective mid-way through the song, singing “little did you know / that girl is me.” Lyrically, this kind of exposition continues for the following four club nostalgia songs, where Mabel seems much more keen to tell us about her confidence than show it. The image she creates for herself feels one-dimensional and loaded with empty clichés: “you need a girl who does it right,” or “I’m the definition of a good girl / bad bitch.” As a listener, it leaves you with very few openings to connect with her as a person, and it doesn’t help that in many cases her vocals are chopped, tuned and tweaked to within an inch of their life, leaving them in a kind of uncanny valley of production smoke and mirrors.

It’s not until “Take Your Name,” a short piano interlude in the middle of the album, that Mabel takes her foot off the pedal and starts to explore territory beyond her club diva persona. The Stargate produced “Overthinking” is one of the few moments where Mabel’s mask cracks to show a more vulnerable side, detailing her cyclical patterns of negative thoughts and harmful actions. Guest vocalist 24kGoldn complements Mabel well, and the Stargate production builds to a cathartic chorus, contrasting glistening keys with fuzzy bass synth stabs. “I Love Your Girl” features another narrative bait and switch (like the diva ‘reveal’ in “Animal”), but this time we hear Mabel pining after an ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend instead of him. It’s the kind of concrete storytelling that is notably missing from much of the rest of the album.

Ultimately, the biggest takeaway from About Last Night... is the first single “Let Them Know,” which was now released over a year ago. It’s the clearest distillation of Mabel’s intention for the album, and the best song on the record by a comfortable margin. Taken in isolation, it does everything that About Last Night... sets out to do: a heady mix of 90s house nostalgia, glamorous bravado, and sing-along lyrics (“'cause baby, you’re that…bitch!” is made to be screamed at friends across a crowded dance floor). Sadly, the rest of the record doesn’t add much of value beyond what we hear in “Let Them Know.” While many of the right components are present, About Last Night... feels like a plate of empty calories; struggling to reach a sense of genuine empowerment on account of its overstuffed production and lyrics that are vague to the point of meaninglessness.

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