The principal problem with Amelia is that it could be anybody singing these unoriginal songs. ‘Red Flags’ aims for the soaring sassiness of ‘Wrecking Ball’ but falls short; ‘Both of Us’ has the type of synths and hip-hop drums that would have been reserved for Cheryl Cole a decade ago; and ‘Freezing’ feels like a pale imitation of the playfulness of Ariana Grande.
Whatever voice Webb has is quashed beneath generic dance-pop that screams The X-Factor rather than x-factor and is only allowed to escape intermittently, usually when the tempo is moved downbeat. Webb has spoken in the past of executives trying to mould her into the next somebody instead of being guided along her own path and with a single ‘Ghost of You’ it feels like some suit is trying to manufacture the next Dua Lipa or Mabel rather than hone Webb’s undoubtedly striking voice.
The pop formula is the pop formula for a reason and when executed well is always effective. It’s just that the best example of it on Amelia is in ‘House on Fire’ which has been out a year. While undoubtedly euphoric and a gleeful ‘fuck you’ to a skeevy ex, she’s unable to gel the pop aesthetics and personal stamp over a full-length album.
‘House on Fire’ has helped grow Webb’s fanbase far beyond the cult thanks to its unifying cry of angst against bad men and the wicked humour glittered through the track that sees Webb cast herself as a femme fatale prone to a bit of arson. The acerbic lyrics, which are far more pointed and daring than anything her contemporaries are doing, only highlight how plain much of the rest of Amelia is.
Despite the protracted length of the album – most songs are less than three minutes, and the total length comes in at just over half an hour – it could easily have been shaved down to an EP without losing anything meaningful.
Album highpoint is piano driven ballad ‘Last Train to London’ that encapsulates why Webb was nominated for Best New Artist at last month’s Brit Awards. It’s much closer to the sorrowful odes to heartbreak that caused Webb to blow up online in the first place and a reminder of the limitless potential of her husky voice flickered with jazzy tones that’s pitched somewhere between Ellie Goulding and Holly Humberstone.
It feels like the only time Webb allows us to see the real her as she reflects on the pain of leaving a lover you’ve given everything to. While Amelia can swerve far too deeply into bubblegum pop, ‘Last Train to London’ is mature, honest and evidence of a deeply skilled songwriter screaming to get out as well as a virtuoso singer entrapped by self-defeating production. It’s like having Amy Winehouse produced by David Guetta.
The slower songs, such as the self-titled album closer that doubles as a letter to her younger self, also emphasise Webb’s witty, gen-z stream-of-consciousness storytelling that is often blunted into anonymity behind the poppier tracks. Her voice deserves a much better album.
At 23, and with an already fervent fanbase behind her, there are a lot of places for Webb to go. With Amelia falling into the quagmire of attempting to establish a young artist while curtailing their idiosyncrasies, most of those places are upwards. Amelia is an album dangling in purgatory and outside of a couple of songs, entirely forgettable.