Estelle – All Of Me

All Of Me is Estelle’s third studio album and at best a genre-hopping musical antipasto. The opening number “The Life” is a messy palette of sound splodges, a clumsy epilogue crossing the finish line with a ballsy rhythmic coda and a this-is-me-bitch glean. But rather than closing my eyes and enjoying the tasty delay of hissing cymbals, I find I’m furrow-browed trying to understand what I am hearing. Am I missing the categorical clues?  In all of 3 minutes 28 seconds I have heard jagged 90’s bass synth, swung reggae backbeats and cut-paste lines of rap to rival a Nicky Monaj production. I don’t necessarily want to pigeon-hole the sound, I just want to recognise her direction and join her club as a listener. But I unsuccessfully tune to her frequency while she unsuccessfully crafts a cohesive message.
To my general unease, the whole album is as inconsistent as the first track. Channelling a colourful assortment of reggae, electro-pop and soul, this heavily produced album leaves little to the imagination but satisfies the gluttonous. Featuring Chris Brown, “International” is definitely the stand-out track and an R&B hit waiting to explode. Dropping her pitch, Estelle plays with melodic intervals in her hooks, while Chris Brown lives up to his popular promise as a hit-making cameo and a writer of fashionable mainstream lyric.
Bragging infectious melodies, Estelle projects two flipsides of her artistry, one born from the sassy diva with baditude, the other telling the emotional plight of the romantic queen of soul. “This one’s for Brooklyn” she snaps in the opener track, an ode to her hometown which unveils the badass potential of her spoken verse. Her rap is effective in a cinematic sense, but doesn’t quite leave me convinced of an authentic homage paid. ‘Break My Heart’ featuring Rick Ross is melodically pleasant and the two voices complement one another well, but for a track produced to the nines it is otherwise bland.
The album is rested with lounge-music intermissions backing supposedly unrehearsed conversation. We become flies on the wall to American friends analysing their relationships and life, and these unknown voices are interesting and likeable in their honesty. These insights are useful in determining Estelle’s frame of mind before her poetic subjects, but they are somewhat out of place on an album that is already jam-packed with styles and diverse instrumentation.
With a burgeoning commercial edge and pop sensibility, Estelle’s woody tone is sensual and showcased in the tracks “Wonderful Life” and “Back to Love” which are exotic and cutesy. “Do My Thing” featuring Janelle Monae is reminiscent of Monae’s own number “Cold War”, its chorus glued together seamlessly with layers of spirited female vocal. A distant brass solo adds colour to the compilation but stays low in the mix, falling short of the screeching intensity it hints at.
Overall the album doesn’t boast anything lyrically inspiring. Estelle dips into clichéd phrase all too often. The album-track “Thank You” is sadly forgotten after one listen, thanks to the boring analogy “You’re my heart, you are my soul.” Luckily the track “Speak Ya Mind” is capable of lifting spirits as its vigorous energy introduces a quirky spin on soul music.
One thing I can be certain of is that the album has left me panting, heaving for breath after playing 15 games of Ship Shark Shore. Maybe Estelle intentionally plays with everything she knows like a truly eclectic artist. Or maybe she just forgot to cut the fat. Either way, the album title ‘All of Me’ is ironically fitting.
by Phoebe Spinks

April 1st 2012
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