You’d be forgiven for not realizing PinkPantheress is singing about death. Sure, ‘Another life’ kicks off her debut studio album with the eerie sound of a church organ, setting up the darkly cinematic mood that was promised in the one-minute album trailer – but once those featherlight synths, breakbeats, and wispy vocals rush in, it seems like just a cheeky framing device. But as the song elicits the familiar warmth of PinkPantheress’ early output, you notice the words: “Guess you died today/ And I can’t believe it/ You lost your soul, you know that you can’t start this.” PinkPantheress carries the song with such ease that her disbelief nearly scans as dispassion, the scene fresh yet foggy enough for the listener to project their own memories of loss. “Overall, I wanted to make everyone feel a bit depleted and sad,” she said in an interview with The Guardian, and for anyone worried her newfound confidence and slick production would compromise the dejected vulnerability of 2021’s To hell with it, Heaven knows strikes a satisfying balance. PinkPantheress flexes her muscles as a producer and is intent on pushing her sound forward, but she’s haunted by the same universal concerns, navigating the strange mingling of anxiety and desire.
In more ways than one, the album is a refinement of its predecessor, more ambitious and fully realized. But more remarkable is the fact that it doesn’t sacrifice To hell with it‘s appealing qualities even as it widens her pool of collaborators. ‘The aisle’ sparkles with pop detail, disco strings and all, and PinkPantheress has no issue breezing through it with elegance. The booming electro-pop of ‘Feelings’ seems designed to hint at her rise to stardom, but she cuts through the veil by using it as a site of intimacy, singing, “I realize that I’m peaking too early/ But I don’t want that making you worry/ ’Cause no one ever told me to.” She floats atop the jittery production of ‘Nice to meet you’, a track co-produced by Cash Cobain and Count Baldor, buzzing with a fervor that culminates in a killer hook: “I pray that I’ll die before my baby/ I’ll take a risk if anyone tries to touch my baby.” It’s only Central Cee’s guest appearance – far more monotonous and hardly effective as a point of contrast – that deflates the song at the end, but every other feature, from Kelela to Ice Spice’s by now instantly recognizable turn on ‘Boy’s a Liar Pt. 2’, are on-point.
PinkPantheress’ ambition to switch up and stretch out her style leads to a few missteps, particularly when it has the effect of overshadowing her voice. With the exception of ‘Another life’, this is particularly true of the Greg Kurstin-assisted tracks on the front end of the LP: the songwriting on ‘True romance’ feels too literal and the production falls flat, while ‘Mosquito’ hovers on thoughts of mortality without giving them much weight. PinkPantheress’ singing may be casual and airy, but it’s also intricate and longing in ways that later tracks do a better job of matching. ‘Ophelia’ pairs the tenderness of the harp with robust drums, mirroring the fluttering anticipation in her story and the very real feelings of fear and regret that quickly take over it.
So while the sound is generally more upbeat, darkness looms large, and PinkPantheress far from abandons her habit of dotting love songs with uncertainty and hesitation. She just proves there’s more than one way to frame it. Nothing quite tops the simplicity of ‘Boy’s a liar Pt. 2’, tucked here as a closing track, except the song that utilizes almost the opposite approach: more than double the length of many songs on to hell with it, ‘Capable of love’ dazzles with its meticulous and dynamic arrangement, conveying how much stock she’s put in the relationship – and how much she stands to lose. PinkPantheress’ music can still be suggestive, pillowy, and nostalgic, but though in the past these characteristics could pleasantly mask her high-stakes songwriting, here she goes all in, soaking in the feeling a bit more. In the world that she creates, at least, it’s worth the payoff.