In a rare instance of bucking the Pavlovian response of disinterest to a new indie act being hyped to high heaven, Beabadoobee’s Fake It Flowers was actually a fairly good album. It wasn’t as hemmed in by bedroom-pop rigidity as her earlier EPs could point to, where the embrace of grunge and ‘90s alt-rock felt like a fairly credible audition to join that revival scene if and when the TikTok indie bubble burst. The explosion to follow was always on the cards, in an airtight storm of promotion, peripheral influence and scene direction working flawlessly in sync, only this time having some decent returns to hold it up. Though, with this being the modern indie scene, that’s no guarantee of consistency, where the ‘genre agnostic’ approach works for the short-term hit but struggles to bloom into something much greater. In hindsight then, Bea’s own vaunted stylistic jump acts as a handy precursor for where Beatopia goes, trying to flit between bedroom-pop deigned with a budget and an even greater disregard for genre boundaries, with predictably messy results. The elephant in the room is that Beatopia is demonstrably less of a rock album, with really the only crossover with Fake It Flowers being the robust grunge of Talk. That isn’t a bad thing inherently, but there’s a core of strength missing that that last album carried so well, this time replaced by a flightiness and uncertainty that’s more in line with the industry-standard indie mindset. Go a step further with hyperpop skittering on tinkerbell is overrated or bossa nova on the perfect pair, and Beatopia actively seems to shun Beabadoobee’s own musical path for the same selection of modern sophistipop that seldom grows per new iteration. It makes for a bit of a toothless listen in a way that’s a predecessor was better at avoiding, not helped by Beabadoobee herself still being an underwhelming presence in how frail her voice is. Against songs like Sunny day or broken cd that only amplify that fragility with how spare they are overall, there isn’t much more to become invested in than with the normal, coffee-house folkster set.
Granted, Beatopia’s ambitions aren’t explicitly that low; this is still the product of an artist channelling her deafening buzz into something that can potentially square up, and that’s noticeable enough. The obvious standout is the production where, outside of more scene concessions to intimacy and shrunken scale that sound more like a filter, there’s the most consistently good work on the album. That mainly comes in the embellished strings on Lovesong or the pads of vocal harmonies on Pictures of Us for a greater, more lush swirl, replicated elsewhere in a delicacy that’s more gratifying than just an acoustic guitar that sounds as though it’ll crack if looked at the wrong way. It fits with the insularity of the writing, centred around Beabadoobee’s titular imaginary world as a place of respite to retreat into when modern stresses become too much to bear, effectively as a framing device for some bedroom-pop standards written with as much acumen as usual. She does have personality, both as a lyricist and a composer, but it’s harder to grip onto on Beatopia due to what feels like a deliberate minimising of the factors of her breakout. As obvious as it is that an artist like this doesn’t want to be boxed in, Beatopia drifts past the potential gold that came before, to where it isn’t remotely a surprise that its best moments come in the carryovers. There’s obviously Talk, and Don’t get the deal operates in a similar grunge / shoegaze-adjacent space with a bit more oomph to it, but even something like 10:36 works really well, in its blend of jangling indie, big, scorched-out guitars and a stiffer drumbeat that offers some much-appreciated propulsion. It’s the first proper track too, almost as if it’s setting up a cool direction to open out and rework what came before, but that’s rarely the case. In context, it’s just another example of how much Beatopia’s spark has diminished in the interim, an album that definitely has creative vision that’ll ultimately please those to whom it’s aimed, but the impact isn’t the same. Maybe it’s more a fact of unreasonably heightened expectations from Fake It Flowers being such a pleasant surprise, but this has nowhere near the gusto or verve that album brought so frequently. Solid production and the occasional moment aside, this is a sophomore slump if there ever was one.
For fans of: Wallows, mxmtoon, Clairo
‘Beatopia’ by Beabadoobee is released on 15th July on Dirty Hit Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall