Review Summary: Colbie starts to learn how to balance between vintage and surprising.
Say what you want, but I was always the guy praising Colbie Caillat as a legit artist, writing her own songs e finding personality even in the most vintage moments of her discography. She is not innovative and, facing it, her songs tend to work better by their own than put on the repetitive context of an album like Breakthrough. All of You, by its turn, doesn’t quite change this paradigm, but it’s really rewarding to stop and listen to Colbie leave her comfort zone a little just to deliver a less naïve, less sugary piece of work. She mostly succeeds, and what we have here is a wider specter of musical influences, as well as a slightly bigger variance of themes among the songs. It’s still Colbie, though, her signature, her voice, her tone and her personality.
First portion of the album is especially surprising. Opener and second single “Brighter Than The Sun” is her collaboration with Ryan Tedder, OneRepublic’s frontman and songwriter with credits such as “Halo” by Beyoncé and “Bleeding Love” by Leona Lewis. No wonder the song ends up with his signature all over it. Still, is a pleasure to hear Colbie putting up with the challenge of singing a slightly more R&B tune, one with that genreless quality that Tedder trademarked. Second track and first single “I Do”, on the other hand, is an under three minutes length guilty pleasure, with its cheesy lyrics ending up truly irresistible. “Favorite Song” doesn’t fall far from that either, a hip-hop tune featuring Common that bring Jason Mraz repertoire to mind with its reggae-ish guitar riffs. It’s a perfect third single.
It’s kind of curious, you see, that among these first songs is “Before I Let You Go”. It plays with what one could call Colbie’s vintage style, but it still archives a denser mood, musically and lyrically speaking. Picturing a relationship being bugged by a third person and putting electric guitars into her instrumental repertoire, it ends up with a captivating chorus and as one of the best songs on All of You. Fifth track, “What If”, lacks exactly that kind of fresh tone its predecessors have in abundance. It’s an old paradox on Colbie’s career that some of her songs are simply so adjusted to the formula of 21st century girlie pop rock defined by herself alongside Taylor Swift, that they simply can’t sound honest enough.
Even on absurdly pop “Think Good Thoughts” Colbie feels more comfortable on her skin. Toby Gad and Kara DioGuardi’s excellence on crafting an instant hit is translated in elegance and discretion here. Production is smart enough to left Colbie’s vocals virtually untouched and make its arrangement as sunny as it can get with only acoustic guitar and standard drums. It’s a reggae song with a womanly, fresh, light tone. And who cares about the cliché lyrics, anyway? “Dream Life, Life” has tem too, but somehow, as always, Colbie’s vocals play alongside her and Rick Nowels’ lyrics to come up with something truly inspiring out of the “seize the day” standard lecture. Or maybe it’s just the fact that, on this album, Colbie is not all about flawless optimism.
And that is precisely why “All of You” was chosen as title-track: to surprise the listener with lyrics than can be romantic and still throw some shadows at the story of a lover declaring to her loved-one that she wants to know all his secrets. It could be just the fact that Colbie puts a little more of that country heartbreak to her voice (smartly enough, with Lady Antebellum wondering around), and it’s actually amazing how well her timbre works with that kind of inflection. And so we end up with a little preciosity like “Shadow”. Colbie and her boyfriend, Justin Young, a brilliant guitar player and pretty good songwriter too, are together to deliver the best lyrics in the whole album.
It all closes with “Make It Rain”, only solo composition of the album and, no surprise, the one that most widely showcases her personality. It’s great to hear her that way, so honest and so conscious of the fact that music doesn’t need to be complex to be beautiful when it’s well-written. With minimum efforts, Colbie deliver us her best. Perfect closing for an album that works hard to not be, as both her previous efforts were, forgettable. And even if it takes a wrong step here and there, it’s way more than a valid attempt. It’s exploring a new horizon, and that is, always, a good sign.