We live in a culture that rewards the extreme. The fastest way to 10 million views on YouTube? Either be breathtakingly incredible (Adele) or breathtakingly terrible (Rebecca Black). We’re inundated with so much information each day that often only the extremities manage to rise above the fray and demand our infinitely divided attention – which is a bit of a problem for Estelle. Estelle, the U.K. singer who planted her flag firmly on U.S. soil with her breakthrough hit American Boy, is an unarguably good singer, but she’s not commanding. She’s got style, but it’s …
Fans can also check out Estelle's previous albums: Estelle - Shine
DJBooth Album Review
Estelle, the U.K. singer who planted her flag firmly on U.S. soil with her breakthrough hit American Boy, is an unarguably good singer, but she’s not commanding. She’s got style, but it’s a cool and subtle style – you’ll never catch her rocking a meat dress on the red carpet. And thankfully she’s managed to largely avoid giving the TMZ vultures any meat to gnaw on. All that means that while certainly successful, she’s flying just below R&B’s superstar radar…which means her new album All of Me hasn’t received the type of overwhelming hype that would make it unavoidable….which means you might just be surprised about how good it is. Clearly modeled after Lauryn Hill’s classic Miseducation, right down to the conversational interludes about love and relationships, All of Me is an album whose primary mission is to deliver good music, not necessarily launch headlines. Imagine that.
Well, except for International, a record that feels like a push for attention. The album’s low point, International is an up-tempo club banger that sounds more like the product of an A&R meeting than a musical inspiration. Now International is no disaster - to be sure Estelle does well on the track, proving that she can swag as well as sing with soul. But doing a song to prove a point, or make a “hit”, isn’t exactly a recipe for great music, and in the midst of the album it sticks out like a dead nun in a snow bank. One second we’re jet setting around the world getting those pesos/Euros/rubles, the next we’re back at one of those intimate organic conversational interludes. The effect is jarring. And what makes International’s inclusion particularly ironic is that All of Me’s original lead single, the more hyper-sexual but similarly club-oriented Freak, flopped badly enough to be pulled from the album. I understand an artist who wants to prove the critics wrong and avoid being labeled, but everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Unlike Songz and Chris Brown, tracks like International are a weakness for Estelle, a weakness that would be better left alone.
By contrast, the album’s other heavyweight (pun intended) selection works so well because it brings the guest feature to Estelle instead of forcing her to change for the guest feature. Break My Heart’s lush and smooth instrumental is a perfect meeting point for Estelle and Rick Ross, whose Bawse delivery balances perfectly with Estelle’s unwavering tone. And while I think I’m the first person in music history to compare Rick Ross and Janelle Monae, Do My Thing takes Monae’s retro-R&B style and seamlessly slots Estelle into the mix, resulting in a powerful woman anthem that might just make you crack a smile; that is, if you still have any sliver of a soul left.
But where Estelle truly shines, and what makes All of Me more than your average R&B album, are her completely solo efforts. She’s mastered the art of intimate R&B – not in the babymaker sense, in the sense that regardless of the song of subject matter, it feels like she’s singing directly to you. On slow burner Thank You she delivers some real emotion without becoming melodramatic, making her all the more relatable, while Wonderful Life is one of the more organic and natural feel good records you’re going to hear. And those tracks’ laid back demeanor doesn’t mean that Estelle can’t push the tempo when she feels properly inspired as evidenced by the ‘90s synth stylings of Cold Crush and the more hip-hop influenced Speak Ya Mind. No doubt about it, the woman knows how to write a song.
I hate to say it, and I’d be more than happy to be proven wrong, but I don’t think All of Me is one of those albums that everyone will be talking about. It won’t sell eleventy-billion copies and it won’t make Estelle a superstar. Instead, it’s one of those albums that you’ll find yourself still playing years from now, long after more hyped and overwhelming albums have been put aside and begun collecting literal or virtual dust. This is an album you play during a lazy Sunday afternoon, an album you reach for during a long road-trip, and in a way that’s far more valuable than the month’s new hottest thing. Thank god for Estelle – I could really use a break from all these extremes.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 03/1/12
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