With artists such as The Beatles, Sting, Rod Stewart and many others having long, storied careers and success in the States, the term “British Invasion” has become a misnomer. British artists have been making themselves at home on the US music charts for decades. Though soul/R&B music has remained mostly an (African) American original, artists from across the pond finally managed to achieve a foothold in foreign soil in the mid-2000s. Amy Winehouse, Duffy and Adele staked their claim on the pop charts and our hearts, churning out classic albums and unmatched sales. Recently, Emeli Sandé and Sam Smith rightfully took their place alongside these seasoned artists. However, often forgotten on that list is Estelle. The singer-songwriter hooked up with John Legend and Kanye West to produce the album Shine, released the hit single “American Boy” and even earned a GRAMMY. Unfortunately, she has failed to enjoy the same success as her peers. Will audiences finally fall for Estelle the same way they’ve fallen for her more famous countrymen with True Romance?
The name of the album conjures up thoughts of trashy pulp novels featuring a hunky cover model caressing a helpless woman in an adult fairy tale. And, while Estelle’s early buzz single, “Make Her Say (Beat It Up),” definitely lived up to that perception, the final product defies expectations. Estelle shocks, astounds and, most of all, entertains, with an album full of introspective ballads that cover the themes of courage, passion, the bulls**t, and finally, true romance. Estelle takes us on a journey not only through life and love, but several musical genres, covering house, electro, reggae, pop, hip-hop, soul and R&B, sometimes, like on the opening track, “Time After Time,” all at the same time.
Lead single “Conqueror” makes you question whether this is really Estelle. Known for her sexy whisper, Estelle delivers powerful vocals, unleashing unexpected depth and range that makes the song’s message of overcoming life’s great challenges resonate with audiences. While “Conqueror” is the big courageous ballad of the album, it is quickly followed by “Something Good/Devotion,” a more intimate display of courage, like dancing at a West Indian basement party, strutting your stuff without a care in the world.
The aforementioned, “Make Her Say (Beat It Up),” is more of a grower than a shower, fitting in perfectly as the bridge between the courage and passion chapters of the project. After you get over the initial trauma of a grown ass woman asking someone to “make love” to her “vagina” like an African drum (shocker!), her patented sexy whisper and the enchanting beat will take you over and make you feel at ease.
On “Silly Girls,” Estelle teams up with producers J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League for a powerful soul ballad, the old school sample wailing along as Estelle considers taking a chance on love. While the beat threatens to overtake Estelle’s gentle vocals, it is still a standout track on the album. Finally, on “All That Matters,” Estelle talks about being secure in love, singing, “If these clouds keep you from coming near / It doesn’t matter, you’re already mine.”
While the album isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, there are some songs that fail to resonate as deeply, add nothing to the overall themes of the album, or are just shy of perfection. “Fight For It,” doesn’t quite stand out on the album of personal songs, and the sexiness of “Time Share” gets bogged down by a guest spoken word verse that goes on a bit too long. Finally, “She Will Love” a carefree reggae song about being down for your man, feels more like an upbeat filler track than an essential part of the album. The same could be said of the electro-house bonus track, “Not Sure.”
True Romance turns the ideal love story on its head, showcasing the real deal ups and downs that come with the pursuit of that special someone. Though some sections of the concept album fall short, the good outshines the bad. Whether audiences embrace the Estelle’s novel approach to love remains to be seen. However, for those who are looking for something with more substance than your standard pop songs will find a soundtrack to their own love story that will fill you with courage and passion, won’t let you get away with the bulls**t and will help you take comfort in a true romance.