When Estelle rose to fame in 2008 with “American Boy,” featuring Kanye West, listeners met a sophisticated artist whose interests included traveling around the world and the aforementioned American boys. With her success came praise and recognition from the likes of the Mercury Prize and Rolling Stone, resulting in the success of her debut album, Shine. Now, four years later, Estelle returns with her sophomore album All of Me, a soul-pop release that oozes with lush love songs, continuing where her debut left off.
The singer’s Brit-accented delivery has always been a crucial component of her music; it distinguishes her from her contemporaries with a subtle, lighthearted punch behind her half-rapping, half-singing technique. Opener “The Life” is proof of that: “Stunt on the beat / like Ye’s on the track,” boasts Estelle, her shout-out to collaborator Kanye West accompanied by rambunctious synths and fuzzy bass-bumping distortion.
“Break My Heart” stands out not only because it features Rick Ross, but because of its production from Don Cannon. Sensual keys ascend gracefully atop 1970s-era soul and funk; Ross’ raspy contributions showcase the rapper’s soft side and for once his infamous grunt comes off as affectionate and tender, instead of frightening. The collaboration works flawlessly; it’s a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde between the two unlikeliest candidates as Estelle seeks companionship in the arms of bad-boy Ross.
Each song sounds different and offers up a different side to the singer. There’s the hopeless romantic on “Love the Way We Used To;” the acceptor of unrequited love on “Back to Love,” and the single lady doing it better on “Do My Thing,” which features Janelle Monae. The last song is hot and infectious: its Motown groove, handclaps and call-and-response between Estelle and the eccentric Monae are pure soul genius.
All of Me is impressive in that it shows Estelle’s creativity. It seems that her debut album was overshadowed by the success of “American Boy,” with listeners ignoring the singer’s true potential.
Although Shine showcased her girlish charm and talent, Estelle’s follow-up highlights the artist’s newfound attitude. She’s still charming, but in her struggle between choosing love and liberation, Estelle makes herself vulnerable on All of Me, her gradual rise to success tainted with the pains of failed relationships and their aftermaths.