CATE LE BON Pompeii gets 9/10

Cate Le Bon

Mexican Summer


Cate Le Bon’s latest, Pompeii, is very much reflective of the circumstances of its creation. Recorded largely alone or with just co-producer Samur Khouja, this is an art pop statement on isolation and inwardness. It’s also her strongest to date, bolstering her inimitable lyricism with cold and bracing synth textures and her catchiest songwriting to date.

Thematically the album is prime Le Bon. Her instantly recognizable voice beautifully rises and swoops, but with an aura of detachment. This Siouxsie-Sioux-on-tranquilisers approach is the perfect bedrock for her unique brand of poetry. While previous album Reward was cheerier both musically and lyrically, this album is a product of the pandemic. Throughout, Le Bon skirts the line between emotional distance and the need to reach out. “Picture the party where you’re standing on a modern age/ I was in trouble with a habit of years/ And I try to relate/ To the mess I made” runs the chorus of single and album highlight Moderation, indicative of Le Bon’s fly-on-the-wall introspection.

French Boys is more overt, Le Bon unclear on whether she is heartbroken by her titular subject or merely lusting after the neon-lit mystery that this evokes (“So cold/ Faces like lakes/ collaged against rocky terrain/ So quiet/ But I sense what they’re sayin’ ”). The beautiful piano ballad Wheel sums the sentiment up best: “I could resign to the opulence/ Of abstract optimistic love/ Raise a glass in a season of ash/ And pour it over me.”

Musically this album is a delight. Tempos and song structures are less jagged and jittery than previous efforts, and there’s less emphasis on guitar. Most of the six-string work here is decorative, like chorused and ethereal Cocteaus-esque lines running through French Boys. Le Bon has said she wrote most of these songs on bass first, and indeed strong bass lines form a foundation on which the vocals and synth washes take shape. Cry Me Old Trouble and Wheel, for instance, features some excellent slithery bass textures. Horns are put to great use too, like the careening saxes on Running Away.

The main hero here is the synth however, which supports the big pop appeal of these tracks. In another era these Kate Bush-esque songs would be getting heavy airplay. Though the album starts slow with Dirt on the Bed (the only wanting track), the hooks rarely let up from there even if the mood is introspective. Moderation is sad and ghostly. French Boys is a languid bop, while album centerpiece Pompeii is majestic. The catchiest tracks are reserved for the album’s latter half. The refrain of Harbour will not leave your head after a few listens, nor will the catchy, icy goth platitudes of Cry Me Old Trouble. There’s also the jangly, wobbly 80s synth pop of Remembering Me, which sounds like INXS trapped in amber.

Pompeii is a triumph, extolling all of Le Bon’s past virtues and wrapping them in a pop sheen that will serve as an excellent entry point for new listeners. Sit this one on the shelf of quintessential pandemic albums.


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