Camila Cabello's Pulsating 'Camila' Is 2018's First Must-Listen Pop Album (REVIEW)

Camila Cabello had her work cut out for her.

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The last time an American girl group as popular as Fifth Harmony lost its featured member, it proved a momentous pop occasion (cough, surfbort, cough).

And even if Cabello wasn’t forced to endure a deluge of Beyoncé comparisons, her split from her X Factor-formed band at the end of 2016 wasn’t exactly amicable. Tabloids went wild over who said what — or who only replied through their representatives — and how 5H was reportedly blindsided by what any keen-eyed pop viewer had seen coming a mile away: Cabello, the sultry, Latin-pop ingénue from Miami who was forever the quintet’s brightest light would eventually bounce, a la Queen Bey, Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown … it’s a long list.

Now, to say that Cabello, 20, has landed steady on her own feet would be a gross understatement; since the breakup she’s scored collaborative radio hits with Shawn Mendes (“I Know What You Did Last Summer”) and Machine Gun Kelly (“Bad Things”), and she entered 2018 with her first bona-fide solo smash, “Havana,” residing at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It even earned President Obama’s seal of approval.

Cabello’s debut LP Camila, due out Friday (January 12) via Epic Records, is a new sort of triumph for the young singer: it’s a sharply penned, earnest and at times addictive project that stands head, shoulders, hips and heels over the faceless trop-house record Fifth Harmony released without her back in August.

To boot, it’s the first must-listen pop album of 2018. It drips with mainstream appeal — we can pretty much guarantee you’ll be blasting tracks from Camila deep into summer (more on those in a minute).

Though perhaps the most pleasing difference between Camila and Cabello’s 5H work is the singular perspective; she’s the primary writer for just about every track on the 11-song, love-aimed trek — Fifth Harmony writes virtually none of its own music, a huge reason why Cabello left the group, she told Billboard last year.

With that, you can sense Cabello’s bleeding heart on the wistful piano ballad “Consequences” and intimate lines like “Lost a little weight because I wasn’t eating,” and “Loving you was sunshine, safe and sound / a steady place to let down my defenses / but loving you had consequences.” It’s a raw track that nods to the light-treading pop dirges penned by Cabello’s pal Taylor Swift and is encouraging — Cabello appears to be blossoming into a legitimately deft songwriter.

But back to the album’s pulsating, pure-pop firepower. The opening track and new single “Never Be The Same,” which has already begun its ascension up the charts (currently No. 71 on Hot 100), is an urgent, lovesick earworm that capitalizes well on Cabello’s scratchy belts and breathy high notes. In the coming months, this one will almost certainly prove ubiquitous on radio — you’ll know all the words soon enough.

Two more tracks: “Inside Out,” a three-minute Malibu Bay Breeze of a tune with playful repetition and steel drums plinking a tropical vibe; and the sexy I’ll-try-anything-once bumper “Into It,” both possess some summer smash potential, or at very least, prominent spots on your warm-weather playlist.

A flawless debut this is not. For a Cuban-American artist so vocal about her culture’s prominence in her life, there should have been a bit more spice — surprisingly, only one line on the whole record, in “Inside Out,” is sung in Spanish. “She Loves Control” has its Latin horns, but a more pointed “Havana, Side Two” would have been welcome. And the mid-tempo cuts “All These Years” and “In The Dark” are forgettable.

Camila is a strong, serviceable solo debut that launches Cabello into the formidable songstress space occupied by Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez and Alessia Cara, and while Fifth Harmony soldiers on as a four-piece — I’m genuinely curious to see how long they can survive in this iteration — Cabello can rest assured that she made the right move to pursue her own voice. A huge 2018 now seems imminent.

13 Things You Didn’t Know About Camila Cabello