In an era when female pop singers tend to don cartoonish outfits, personae, and vocal styles, sometimes even taking on second personalities to cram in all the manufactured eccentricity, British rapper-singer Estelle remains refreshingly affectless. The short, unobtrusive skits that dot her third album All Of Me highlight her everygirl vibe while also stitching together the album’s loose themes of love, fame, ambition, and how they intertwine, featuring natural-sounding conversations among a group of laid-back creative types hanging out and discussing said themes. The skits are refreshingly low-concept, approachable, and winning, but not particularly provocative, a description that extends to all of Me.
It doesn’t seem like that’s going to be the case in the album’s opening minutes, when Estelle comes storming out of the gate with the blaring, dance-floor-baiting “The Life,” and the continent-jumping, patois-laced “International,” whose massive David Banner hook is almost powerful enough to inoculate against the skeevy presence of guests Chris Brown and Trey Songz. They’re assertive swagger-songs that seem to posit Estelle as a brash, high-flying superstar, but the album quickly comes back down to earth with a spotty series of soulful, R&B-flavored meditations on love and sex.
Estelle is more convincing in flirtation mode on “Love The Way We Used To” than as a full-on seductress on “Cold Crush,” her vocals failing to live up to the slinky, sensuous production, and she shines far brighter on the album’s most straightforward ballad, “Thank You,” than she does going toe-to-toe with Rick Ross on the ill-fitting “Break My Heart.” But the album’s sunny back half shines brightest, particularly the “everything’s gonna be okay” charmer (and current single) “Wonderful Life”—which, among other things, extols the mood-enhancing virtue of getting a manicure after a bad day—and “Do My Thang,” a match-made-in-heaven duet with Janelle Monáe that sells its overfamiliar theme on pure charisma. Similarly, Estelle’s thang may not be the most ear-catching or eyebrow-raising out there, but it’s as likable as it is listenable.