Suki Waterhouse’s debut album is a shimmering soft-pop opus that revels in its self-indulgence, and shines all the more for it. Led by her soulful delivery and musically arranged only ever as much as it needs to be, ethereal atmosphere-weaving is the star quality of I Can’t Let Go.
Every vignette Waterhouse shares is simultaneously stripped-back and sumptuously deep, stunningly put together to focus on the storytelling. Each track is a tale in the same mode as the likes of Lana Del Rey’s Hollywood visions – an easy, seemingly obvious comparison, given the poetry of Waterhouse’s lyrics and the familiar, immersive sprawl of her musicality. It’s there in “Melrose Meltdown”’s polaroid moment of Malibu dreams in a metaphorical getaway car, “Wild Side”’s almost-but-not-quite idealism of a relationship’s moments of turmoil, “Put Me Through It”’s wistful stratospheric beauty.
But hone in closer, looking for specific points to draw comparison between Waterhouse and her contemporaries, the red threads fray a little – this is diaristic and personal on every level, and though comparisons are inevitable, they find themselves feeling defunct in the fact of the humanity that saturates I Can’t Let Go. Because as personal and sometimes painful as it is, it’s also really playful. Waterhouse explores her internal world with a wry smile here and there (“Bullshit On The Internet” is as self-awarely self-indulgent as you can get, and excellently, dreamily so), and isn’t really bothered if people are following, or enraptured, or enchanted. As striking and silky as the lyricism is, Waterhouse isn’t seeking poetic accolades for it, she’s just weaving her words to vocalise a state of being, and then the music to set it to.
Each moment deftly distinguishes itself from what came before, on an album that when you’re not listening to it, shimmers into a continuous ride of smooth, hazy undulations. There’s just enough of a line between cohesion and repetition that leaves I Can’t Let Go feeling like a world of its own without losing precision. “Devil I Know” is a standout, an early moment of sultry punctuation in basslines and hooks; “Slip” closes the album off like a segue into a synthy sunshine-pop, Jack Antonoff-esque production. Waterhouse isn’t just playful with her themes, she’s playful with her communication too.
If I Can’t Let Go does anything, it proves that Waterhouse deserves a spot in the romantic, Tumblr it-girl canon she firmly occupies as a model and an actress, as a musician. Her lyrics are snippets of beauty, her voice is intoxicating, her songwriting is immaculate. But, begrudgingly, I Can’t Let Go proves that Waterhouse may have no inclination to take up her spot in that canon, because this album isn’t for us to dissect and project – it’s a personal soundtrack, a mixtape of years that straddles the gorgeous and the gloomy sides.