Cate Le Bon’s last album, 2019’s Reward, was one of that year’s best. It found a way, as each of her albums does, to build on the pattern and formula that preceded it while embracing a different aspect of Le Bon, or at least the woman she was at the time of recording. Long gone are the overtly Welsh whispers of Me Oh My or the angular eclecticism of Crab Day, instead, as with Reward, Le Bon is pushing outward, evoking the sweeping, bombast of a “great” album.
Each track on Pompeii eschews the minor and surmountable that Le Bon has marginalized to her EPs and collaborations, and instead unfolds as her own curated disclosures. Where Reward’s horn-filled arrangements cast her in an epic-sized production, she now uses that same scale to provide insight into her own isolation and gloom. Le Bon uses the imagery and the vastness of her motifs to present these emotions as they feel, not just how they seem. Whether it be the immediate conceptualism of Pompeii and its population or the more immediate past of Le Bon’s childhood, she imposes the hardness that she’s carrying in ways equally broad and specific.
While the album is danker than any of the city-pop it’s been drawing comparisons to, it is easy to see the 80s inspiration hidden in each track. Le Bon’s genius, at a time saturated with nostalgia and gated reverb, is to borrow more from mood than technique. Pompeii moves towards Talk Talk, Kate Bush, and Richard Butler in how it emotes, but also achieves their same level of timelessness. Like Pompeii, a city defined by a singular, ancient tragedy, Le Bon struggles with the same sentiments that plagued her influences, and that she knows, will eventually plague those that she influences.