Estelle, ‘True Romance’ [ALBUM REVIEW]
Love is a battlefield -- just ask Pat Benatar -- but with it also comes an immense amount of joy. British-bred singer Estelle documents all of the highs and lows, breakups and make-ups and everything in between on her new album, True Romance.
After being signed to three different labels over the past decade, Estelle launched New London Records, a partnership with BMG, in 2013. She's shed her traditional pop shell and moved a pleasant distance from her Grammy Award-winning, Kanye West-assisted single “American Boy,” to craft an effort that features everything from R&B-centered tracks to '90's dance flavor. She sings candidly about sex, touches on being stupid in love and examines the cavalier heartbreaker, exposing every cavity of the heart.
While her melodies are still as unique as the reggae, pop, R&B infusion she delivered on Shine and All of Me, Estelle’s penmanship is elevated on True Romance. She stays true to her pop and dance hall mash-ups, but this time around, she pushes the envelope, transitioning from radio-friendly tunes to the private chambers of adult bedrooms.
After listening to the lead single “Conquerer,” a ballad about the strength developed as a result of a tough relationship, the album could be labeled as somber. However, "Time After Time” is classic Estelle -- upbeat, snare-heavy and dance-ready. The hip-hop elements and piano riffs complement Estelle’s soft cries, proving True Romance is not just a sappy love story.
That self-esteem booster is followed by Estelle's dance party on the funky house selection "Something Good/Devotion.” The six-minute track finds the singer celebrating herself; she's happy and drama-free with the goods her ex-boyfriend craves.
The sonic pleasure that comes next borrows a page from the Ying Yang Twin’s “Whisper Song” as she delivers the sexually-charged “Make Her Say (Beat It Up).” “Make my p--- say,” she repeats along with a repetitive “Beat the p---- up.” While the song is more like an interlude and sounds seemingly experimental and rather Rihanna-esque, it works well thanks to the drums that carry it along.
With tracks like “Time Share” and “The Same,” Estelle’s takes her bold songwriting to another level. “Loving you is existential, f---ing is supplemental, body was just a rental,” she sings over dreamy violins and snares on “Time Share.” She taps into her libido as she recalls sexcapades from hotel to hotel with her former flame. On “The Same," she finds herself trying to pick up the pieces of her broken heart, asking herself how things went wrong.
With questions unanswered, Estelle devotes “Fight For It” to reflecting on the errors of her ex. “You say that we were meant to be / Why don’t you fight for it? / You said that you would never leave / So why didn’t you fight for it?,” she sings to the mystery man who influenced the album. The Just Blaze-produced “Silly Girls” is another reminder that love can make you do stupid things. The nostalgic beat laced with horns, violins, drums and a piano can easily push this to the next single.
You’re almost at the end of the album when you think: What’s an Estelle project without hearing a tribute to her Grenada roots? She brings the island flavor on “She Will Love,” like a cool breeze on a hot summer day. Her voice is smooth velvet over the airy reggae-tinged slow jam. The song stands as one of the more organic tracks on the album, where both Estelle’s vocals and lyrics are aligned in perfect harmony without the pressures of creating a trendy radio-friendly record.
It’s closing time and Estelle is back in ballad mode with the emotional love letter “All That Matters.” Once heartbroken and now hopeful, the song essentially outlines the union and love she hopes to have in the future. “And if the sun should go away from here / It don’t matter because with you I shine,” she sings in a soothing serenade.
True Romance is Estelle’s rebirth after a life-changing relationship. While the LP lacks major collaborations, she holds her own just fine, detailing personal matters of the heart in a way that resonates.
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