POLYDOR RECORDS 10th November 2023
Bella Latham is absolutely on a roll and she’s only twenty-five. That might be a quarter life but it’s not a crisis, except that she’s got a lot to think about, a lot of opinions and she shares them in a smart and endearing way. With six songs in Netflix’s ‘Heartstopper’ and a handful of singles, this album, wrapped inside a picture of Baby Queen sat in the messiest teen girl bedroom ever, is a snapshot of where she is now, and she’s in a pretty good place.
There’s a vogue this decade for personal songs but these aren’t exactly autobiographical, they are about what Bella has to say – and what she has to say is worth hearing. Tie that to pop music that is super-accessible and I see a bit of a winner.
Opening the set is Latham’s world message – from a negative grumble on a street beat comes a soaring, celestial chorus about infinite potential, riding a big beat and selling the message ‘We Can Be Anything’. Commenting on her inspiration, Bella says; “it truly is magical and extraordinary to be alive”. More personal is the obsessional ‘Dream Girl’, a song about wanting the girl that’s off with someone else. Does he treat her right, does he love her like she should be loved? Breathy backing vocals, rising beats, stomping floor wobbler thumps add up to a catchy reiteration of a classic theme. ‘I Can’t Get My Shit Together’ is snappy and sharp, digging into that resonant inner self-doubt in a clever set of playful parentheses. ‘Quarter Life Crisis’, like Taylor Swift, overthinks things and pokes herself for doing it despite herself. Self-mocking, she wallows in her weltschermz and getting older while laughing at herself for doing it. It’s a self-aware emotional game and we identify. She says; “Human beings are complex, and life and growth are complex and nuanced. I’m not sure anybody ever truly feels like they have it all figured out – I certainly don’t”
She’s a counter-culture guru, a Gen Z that is tired of all the BS on social media, who’s heading into real relationships instead of image. That doesn’t make her a hippie, she’s definitely of her generation and her message is distinctive of today. There’s plenty about false values, internet crap as a drain on humanity, etc, wrapped up in bouncy pop bangers. ‘Kid Genius’ sees her irony turned up to the max as she tells us; “Welcome to the human race, we recommend you spend all day on the internet”; “you don’t have to go to school, just go online, it’s super-cool.”
Largely synth dance-pop, the shiny fun is annoyingly infectious and the chorus hooks are big, thumpy, simple and fun. And if it isn’t entirely original – what is? ‘A Letter To Myself At 17’ has the same lyrical theme as The Lottery Winners’ ‘Letter To Myself’ but so what, both are great thoughts about growing. Says Bella; “This album tells the story of my journey through my early 20s – leaving my childhood and my adolescence behind but never really losing my childlike wonder and never quite growing up. It has been lonely, chaotic, beautiful, devastating and inspiring and I think these songs reflect that, creating a space in which innocence and experience can live side by side as two conflicting entities.”
Pop music doesn’t exist in a vacuum and is rarely as simple as it looks. As an expression of the zeitgeist, this collection is a witty, banging piece of reportage.
Oh, and it’s fun too.
We’ve got a review and photos of her Leeds gig here: