Estelle - Shine

Posted May 7, 2008
Tags: Estelle,

The British are coming! The British are coming! Over here in the good ol’ U.S. of A we...

Shine Album Review

The British are coming! The British are coming! Over here in the good ol’ U.S. of A we (sadly) don’t take kindly to outsiders, especially when it comes to our beloved hip-hop and r&b, but recently there’s been a new wave of English-born singers coming across our borders. While these U.K. groundbreakers are far from a monolithic group (Corinne Bailey Rae and Amy Winehouse anyone), they do have a few things in common: they’re all women, they all incorporate more early American r&b into their sound than almost any U.S. artist, and none of them have secured a permanent place in the American musical landscape, yet. It’s hard our here for a Brit.

Estelle is the latest overseas import to grab a slice of the American dream, and if her latest album Shine is any indication she’s poised to succeed where all the Lily Allen’s of the world haven’t. Estelle was a rising star on the English charts until her label V2 decided to let her go, prompting John Legend’s Homeschool Records to swoop in and bring her stateside. Well f**k you very much V2, your loss is our gain.

It’d be too easy to call Estelle an English version of Lauryn Hill. Lauryn had that rare ability to bring tears to your eyes with one note, something Estelle can’t or doesn’t want to do, but the comparison’s a good place to start. Similarly it’d be going overboard to call Shine the second coming of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, but Shine is overflowing with enough style and originality to serve as a preview of the potential greatness waiting on Estelle’s horizon. There’s a classic album in Estelle’s future. Shine isn’t it, but it’s there, if she’s willing to seize it.

The hit that brought Estelle’s retro style across the Atlantic is the fittingly titled American Boy, a compact pop song with just enough muted funk rhythm to keep the dance floor busy. If there’s one thing Americans love it’s self-confidence (also known around these parts as swagger), and while Estelle may sound coy on the surface, underneath her smooth exterior beats the heart of a man-eater. “I don’t like them baggy jeans, but I’m gonna like what’s underneath them,” she sings – American boys should consider themselves warned. Throw in a good but not predictable Kanye guest verse and we’ve got ourselves a smash.

The U.S. has seen plenty of overseas artists briefly catch fire and then quickly burn out, but Shine’s radio-ready material is simply too deep to envision Estelle suffering a similarly short-lived fate. Wait A Minute (Just A Touch) should find its way over to the airwaves in quick order, thanks to another exhibition in addictive production. For her part Estelle effortlessly alternates between silky vocals that will remind old-school heads of Sade and some quirky yet strong rapping from the Missy school of rhyme. Ultimately that kind of musical versatility is the story of Shine. On No Substitute Love she flashes an understated singing style that compliments Wyclef’s organic production perfectly, while on So Much More Out The Way she embeds her rhymes with a street level edge. Plus she drops verses in a heavy English accent. Damn I can’t get enough of that accent.

On almost any album there’s an inevitable “if only…”, and on Shine it’s “if only Estelle had one truly great song, a real take away your breath kind of track.” You Are comes the closest with its velvet guitar lines, but despite some powerful vocals from Estelle, guest feature John Legend steals the show. Similarly Pretty Please Love Me bathes in early 60’s soul to deeply inspirational effect, but Estelle’s voice is drowned out by Love Me’s big band soul. I’m not asking for some Keyshia Cole style vocal and emotional breakdowns, but you can’t help but feel like Estelle’s holding her listeners at arms length, just like the men in her songs. If she can find a way to truly let us inside her head, to give us a unobstructed view of her soul, then I guarantee America will fall madly in love with Estelle, even if she is English. As it stands I don’t love Shine, I’ve got something closer to a serious crush, but I’m ready to love her, if only she’ll give me a reason. Who says American men are afraid of commitment?

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted May 7, 2008
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