Celeste Buckingham is a Slovak singer-songwriter of Swiss-American descent. Her songwriting began at a young age, with one of her first demos having been written when only twelve. She also wrote a successful children’s story with her sister, which they self-published in 2007 and eventually resulted in a paperback release. She rose to prominence with her musical talents in 2011 via becoming a finalist in the Czech and Slovak TV series Superstar.
From this success she was able to establish herself as an artist which resulted in the release of her debut album Don’t Look Back in 2012. Released to critical acclaim, it spawned a number two hit single in the national charts, Run, Run, Run. She followed this with the 2013 album Where I Belong, which featured the single I’m Not Sorry. Another album followed in 2015, So Far So Good. She has also featured as a judge on the Czech-Slovak X Factor.
This album, BARE, features ten tracks and musically is fairly eclectic in its influences, but it is essentially soul/RnB fused with Middle Eastern and Latin elements that is reminiscent of artists like Shakira. Vocally, she is distinctive and powerful, with a voice to stand up against any of pop’s big hitters like Beyonce, Rihanna and Adele. You can also detect the influence of Joss Stone, and Celeste shares her penchant for barefoot performances!
The album gets off to a blistering start with the perfect R&B pop of Paradise, with cutting edge production that rivals the best Bloodshy & Avant productions (Britney Spears, Katy Perry). Starting with a pulsing kick drum that ensures it will rip on the dancefloor, Celeste lays down a killer vocal about resisting but still being tempted by a lothario: “You say you love the dark side, and I got a wild side but I ain’t gonna let you in, no, no…”.
As with the best pop songs, every section of the track is filled with catchy hooks and ear candy, the breakdown bridge (“Even though I know you’re no good for me…”) building to an instantly memorable chorus that captures the harsh reality of life and both the shallow nature and allure of human relationships: “This ain’t paradise, it’s as cold as ice, but there’s magic in your bones I don’t understand…”. If there’s a better pop song in 2018, I’ll be surprised.
While Paradise is my personal favourite on the album, second track Addict is perhaps the one with the most commercial potential and is quite simply, well, addictive! Built around an exotic Eastern groove and a seductive vocal melody, it brings to mind the world conquering classic Hips Don’t Lie by Shakira. Again, it’s about the potency and lure of physical and mental attraction and starts with the chorus hook: “Losing my mind and I kind of like that….”.
Unexpectedly, Celeste shows her versatility on the verses, rapping with a smooth and rapid delivery as fluent and rhythmic as Eminem at his best. This gives the track added sass and really drives it forward, contrasting effectively with the sung sections. A song that could storm the charts, globally.
Third song Rose is a total change of pace; a tender ballad about feeling love and compassion for a man going through a rough time emotionally: “His petals are worn and frayed at the edge, his clothes are torn and his face is a mess…”. Celeste gets to show another side to her talent here, delivering a sensitive, moving and powerful vocal, with a theme that avoids the clichés of the traditional love ballad. With its radio friendly sound and strong chorus, this is another potential single.
Next up is Go Away, which has been released as the first single from the album. It is a return to the Latin-tinged R&B vibes of the first two tracks and matches them for sheer catchiness. Lyrically, as the title implies, it’s about reaching the end of a relationship with someone who’s turned out to be no good. The whole song is packed with hooks, and with its solid four-to-the-floor beat you can tell it will work well in the clubs.
The following Selfish is another fine track, with some nice production effects on the vocals. Although it’s as good as most of what you hear in the charts, it doesn’t have the inspired vitality of the preceding songs and perhaps sounds a little too similar to the majority of what’s out there.
Things pick up again straight away with the superb Trip, a slinky piece of jazz-inflected R&B that Beyonce would be very happy to have in her catalogue. The track makes great use of space, with a sparse but highly effective arrangement based around a xylophone-esque synth melody. It exudes a tasteful sensuality, especially as Celeste purrs “Can we take it nice and slow?” on the bridge. The use of triplet rhythms vocally and instrumentally throughout is the secret to its immense catchiness. A monster track that must surely become a single!
Seventh song Immature has a similar production style to Selfish, with a beefier hip hop style beat. I enjoyed the way the arrangement built across the duration of the track, and the chorus hook soon gets stuck in your head. Lyrically, it’s self explanatory, about a man who hasn’t got round to growing up yet. There is a dry humour in the lyrics that I appreciated, another facet to her musical personality.
Time Is Ours is the second ballad on the album, based around a haunting Coldplay-esque piano arpeggio. Celeste delivers another excellent vocal full of intimate vulnerability, and though it’s not as memorable as the lovely Rose, it’s certainly another well crafted piece of songwriting. All This is another fine example of what is essentially her staple sound, exotic rhythms and percussion and hook-laden vocal melodies, this one driven along by an elastic bassline.
The final track Intoxicated is perhaps the most lyrically edgy song on the album, and makes for a blazing finale. Starting with a harmonized vocoder effect, it’s an ode to the need to temporarily escape through hedonism: “I must stay intoxicated, baby, drink till it’s over, don’t try to change me“. A stomping beat and the verses delivered as a laconic rap gives this a hip urban feel, and this, again, has the potential to be a huge hit in the clubs. A great way to finish.
Having already amassed a huge fanbase, Celeste Buckingham stands poised to enter the big league with this album. She has the voice, image and charisma to become a globe conquering star, but most importantly, she has several songs that sound like they are destined to soar to the upper reaches of the charts. In particular, Paradise, Addict and Trip are potential number ones, but what makes this album stand out from the pack is its consistently high quality. When Shakira released Laundry Service, it broke her beyond just success in her native country and the same should happen here. I rate this as the most important female pop album since Lorde’s debut Pure Heroine. A star is born.
VERDICT: 8.9 out of 10