Review Summary: With the help of many friends, this soulful English hip-hopper aims for an American audience, yet still retains sufficient distinctive traits to make for an interesting & successful listen.
There was much to like about Estelle’s debut LP ‘The 18th Day’. With her distinctive English accent and humble delivery of all things hip-hop, soul and contemporary R&B, it seemed fresh. This was especially the case when she was not succumbing to the traits of her American counterparts, a trap she has almost had to fall into on follow-up release ‘Shine’. As the story goes, the vocalist wanted soulster John Legend to executive produce her 2nd album, but her record label (V2) declined. Initially uncontracted, Estelle literally packed her bags and set up residence in New York where she eventually signed on to Legend’s start-up label HomeSchool. Estelle got her man… and many more!
Lead single and album opener ‘Wait A Minute (Just A Touch)’ is produced by (& features) Will.I.Am, and showcases the vocalists range with clear free-flowing rhymes during the verses and soulful melodic hooks in the chorus. Wyclef Jean then takes the producing reins on 3rd single ‘No Substitute Love’, which cleverly uses the lyrics of George Michael’s ‘Faith’ to kick things off, before laying down an old-school Lauren Hill-esque jazz piece which should effortlessly get stuck in the mind of listeners.
And then of course there is the Grammy Award winning and worldwide smash hit ‘American Boy’, which contains a signifigant vocal contribution from none other than Kanye West. In a sense, this terrific cut sums up Estelle’s motives on ‘Shine’ as the transatlantic nature of it (dare I say) shines through in not only the vocal accents, but also the effective lyrics and electronica laced bounce of the synths. It all results in a throroughly satisfying song which deserved to contend for single of 2008.
The mid-section of ‘Shine’ is a collection of this, that & the other where certain songs will appeal to particular listeners, while putting others to sleep. Estelle still does not hit the mark on a true ballad (‘More Than Friends’ and ‘Back In Love’), while both ‘Come Over’ and ‘In the Rain’ over-rely on their likeable melodies. Even the vocal collaboration with John Legend on ‘You Are’ is slightly disappointing despite some nice harmonies. The Kardinall Offishall assisted & Mark Ronson produced ‘Magnificent’ adds a reggae flavor to the mix, although the best of the batch is when Wyclef returns to help Estelle modernize Bob Marley on ‘So Much Out the Way’. Based on 1977s ‘So Much Things To Say’, it ambitiously welds multiple musical styles interestingly and, for the most part, successfully.
Any concern that the album has lost all momentum due to its mid-section is put to rest with a very strong final two tracks. Gnarls Barkley’s Cee-Lo joins the party on 4th single ‘Pretty Please (Love Me)’, a good-time fun-loving Motown-inspired throwback which should appeal to a wide audience. Meanwhile, the closing title track practically revises the criminally under-appreciated ‘1980’ from her debut, as Estelle updates her nut-shelled life story with an uplifting motivational theme that is delivered with spot-on vocals.
It is clear that in comparison to Estelle’s debut LP, ‘Shine’ is more aimed at the U.S market. This is to be somewhat expected and when considering the range of producers & co-singers she has been able to work with here, it would have been borderline foolish to not head in that direction to some degree. Thankfully, ‘Shine’ retains a sufficient helping of Estelle’s engaging English personality and near-experimental combination of hip-hop, soul, R&B and reggae, to make it an interesting and ultimately successful album. Like her debut, it is not perfect as a few songs miss the target. However, when they hit, this album truly “shines”.
Recommended Tracks: American Boy, No Substitute Love, Shine & So Much Out the Way.