Four years after her breakthrough album, 2008's Shine
, London-born R&B singer Estelle
Swaray has finally returned with a follow-up, All of Me
, released in the U.S. Feb. 28, 2012. All of Me
, which is her second American release and third overall, is a smart, energetic collection of songs, mostly revolving around love and relationships. Although her new album doesn't quite have the eclectic, international flavor that made her last album so great, it's still a solid, enjoyable listen. Some of the credit for this belongs to her musical collaborators, which include Trey Songz
and Janelle Monae
, among others.
Part of the reason why it so long for the final version of Estelle
's All of Me
to finally see the light of day was that the powers that be slowed down the process after a couple of singles released in 2010 failed to make much of an impact on listeners. Those songs, the electronic "Freak," featuring Canadian rapper Kardinal Offishall, and the dance club track, were both ultimately left off the album when Estelle chose to go in a direction that was more in line with what American R&B fans like. So that means no post-disco tracks, but plenty of hip-hop hybrids, like the album's most successful single so far, "Break My Heart,"
which features the rapper Rick Ross. On the song, Ross glides smoothly over the beat, like an inline skater on ice, while Estelle sings about how she's unsure about committing to a new man because she just got out of a relationship and doesn't want to get hurt again. "I just wanna love you baby, I don't wanna waste no time," she sings. "I wanna be your only one baby, please don't break my heart."
Another song that shines is "Do My Thing,"
an unexpected collaboration between Estelle and eclectic and electric vocalist Janelle Monae
. The fast-paced track, which is an ode to individuality and uniqueness, also works as a girl power anthem, with each singer strongly declaring her independence: "You don't know where I'm going and so you think I'm lost, I ain't on your page okay, so to you that means I'm off, Estelle sings, right before Janelle immediately chimes in with the line: "When I dance, I dance to the beat of a drummer you don't hear and can't see ... the problem must be you, and not me."
Also among the album's best material, along with "Do My Thing" and "Break My Heart," is "International (Serious)," a musical three-way between three singers who also rap -- Estelle, Chris Brown and Trey Songz
-- and produced by rapper David Banner. The Caribbean/hip-hop flavored track is the most obvious link to the musical variety and creativity of her 2008 album and strong shot of sonic adrenalin.
The song's a marked contrast to the majority of the album, which consists of safe, mid-tempo relationship songs. Tracks like "Love the Way We Used To," "Back to Love" and "Wonderful Life" are all solid, but ordinary and unspectacular tunes that aren't particularly memorable. One of the few tunes where Estelle really shines without any other vocalists is "Thank You"
a sweetly bitter, Akon
-penned tune about how a woman is angry and sad about losing her man to someone else, but also grateful because the experience has made her a stronger person. "One thing I've learned in life is you gotta be ready to sacrifice to survive," she sings. "I hope she's happy, 'cause you're the chapter that I'll be closing/I hope you're happy, 'cause once my door close, it won't be open."
Overall, All of Me
, is a solid, well-rounded album. Even though Estelle has seemingly narrowed her musical scope to focus more on pleasing American listeners, there's still enough diversity here to keep her from becoming just another one-dimensional singer hopping on and off trends. Just like Estelle herself, the album is smart, sexy and well worth paying attention to.