Album Review: I Can’t Let Go

Waterhouse’s highly anticipated debut album is torched with soft rock influences and mellow production that accentuates her voice in a journey that peels back the boldness of love to find a delicate center.

Suki Waterhouse has been giving audiences small glimpses into her artistry as a musician with only a handful of singles over the past several years. Songs like “Brutally” and “Good Looking” achieved relatively decent buzz and critical appraisal, and left a growing fanbase craving for more of anything she had to offer. While Waterhouse had already made a name for herself as an actress and model, music was an avenue that she was less confident in pursuing. She told Variety in an interview that the slow release of songs was a way of testing both her confidence and the eagerness of the world’s ears, but music is something she has consistently been creating. Nearly six years after the arrival of her first single — and having recently signed to record label Sub Pop — Waterhouse put out her highly-anticipated debut album “I Can’t Let Go.”

She turned to the Grammy-nominated Brad Cook for the album’s production, a producer who is highly regarded within the indie music scene for his stylistic synths and drums seen with artists like Bon Iver and Snail Mail. Cook’s sonic choices blend beautifully with Waterhouse’s sultry voice to create a haunting atmosphere that embellishes the blurring of her realities and fictions. The pair draws influence from contemporaries like Lana Del Rey and Mazzy Star, but manage to make a product uniquely their own, most distinguished by Waterhouse’s vocals. She breathes intoxication into every song, sounding like an exhausted artist alluringly stringing together the chaos of her emotions in a burdensome process for others to vicariously live her experience. She shifts from feelings of frustration, heartache, and acceptance with nothing but an effortless shift in volume.

The opener “Moves” sets the tone for the album’s first half, giving it a bold launching point with a wildly punchy chorus. Her voice fluctuates through self-assured claims as she sings “I’m a put some goddamn moves, babe, I know you need it.” “The Devil I Know” follows suit in terms of the level of confidence that Waterhouse imbues it with, but “Melrose Meltdown’” — a highlight of the album — marks a slow descent into a depressive state driven by exhaustive heartbreak. It begins with a rich contemplation of her own mental state as she croons “deep horrible blues, watching you work the room” in the opening line. As she continues to ponder the emptiness and discontent that she feels, she flips self-pity on its head with a loud declaration that begins the chorus: “Welcome to my Melrose Meltdown.” It is a deglamorized version of herself that she is too frustrated to hide any longer. Cook laces the song with laidback synths that give way to this messy vulnerability.

In the midst of this acute self-reflection, “[B——-” on the Internet’ breaks the introspection with surface-level observations that somewhat weakly encapsulate a critique of social media. Despite its upbeat construction and incredible vocals, Waterhouse’s lamenting about the shallowness of social media and the emptiness it feeds falls slightly flat. She documents her experience with stalking someone she loves through the internet. She sings “I got caught up by your picture in a headline” and, shortly after, “it looks like you love her online.” Lyrically, this song does little to invoke any emotion that beyond surface-level confusion and frustration birthed out of social media. She is clearly capable of vivid imagery and encapsulating emotions in a less overt manner, which is why this song in particular feels disappointing. Production wise, the song is great. The gripe I have with it lies within the obviousness of the lyrics that seem to stem from a lack of willingness to dive deeper internally, or perhaps simply the blander subject of the song.

As the album begins to slow down in its tempo and production, Waterhouse contemplates the past from the lens of present helplessness. In the later parts of the album, exhaustion seems to finally take its toll. There is no action in her words, no move to change her given situation. It is simply her recognizing the state she is in without the means, aid, or energy to do anything about it. “Slip” — a personal favorite — delivers this message with blistering delicacy. She compares the broken state of her mind to “a season nature skipped” and “a dog that doesn’t eat” through the lightest and breathiest vocals on the album. Throughout the songs she takes intense vivid imagery and coats them in a softer tone as she finds power in holding back. Waterhouse stings sharpest at her most constrained. She retains rigid control of her delivery through topics that are painfully burdensome, and it is hard not to commend her bravery knowing how timid she was at the beginning of her career.

“Blessed” serves as a beautiful conclusion to the album. Beginning with stripped-back production, it is a dedication to her inner child, and a recognition of her mistakes and the hurt she has inflicted on others. More importantly, though, she gives herself room for self-forgiveness. She understands her own perspective, her imperfections, and her own pain that she is still trying to work through. She pleads to be needed before dissolving into distorted synths. It’s a brilliant conclusion, signing off with an acceptance of heartache and what it means to be messily human.

Waterhouse’s first full-length album meets all expectations, surpassing them even with one clear miss, as she temporarily satiates the world’s clamoring for more. “I Can’t Let Go” marks her fully-formed arrival onto the music scene with newfound confidence and admirable vulnerability, and if the future is anything like its foundation, she’s got a promising path ahead.

Grade: A-
Released: April 22, 2022

Image courtesy of NME.