This long-awaited third set is remarkable for its lack of standout hits.
Nick Levine 2012-02-27
"Ain't slowing down, I only know speed," raps Estelle on All of Me's second track. Not when it comes to getting this album out – the Londoner's third LP has on the verge of release since 2010. In that time, its first two trailer singles – the David Guetta-produced Freak and the rather classier Fall in Love – have both been nixed from the tracklisting.
If this suggests a lack of confidence in All of Me's commercial potential, that's not entirely without founding. After opening with a pair of bragging rap tracks – Estelle's living the life! Estelle's an international jet-setter who's mates with Chris Brown! – All of Me settles into a more subdued groove. At its core are a clutch of sleek, shimmering neo-soul songs reminiscent of early Erykah Badu and Mary J. Blige.
Estelle carries these off well enough – her vocals are more confident than before and her lyrics deal with proper, complicated adult relationships. "I can be so pretentious, but he likes me just the same," is not a line likely to feature on the Willow Smith album. However, none of these tunes sound primed to rival the likes of Adele or Emeli Sandé for playlist space.
Hence the album's bet-hedging. As well as those incongruous rap cuts, All of Me includes a funky Janelle Monáe collaboration called Do Your Thing and the bouncy Back to Love, which seems to want to rewrite Coldplay's Viva la Vida. Of course, Estelle knows from experience how one hit can sell an album; her last one, 2008's Shine, went gold off the back of the chart-topping American Boy.
The lack of standout hits here is disappointing, but All of Me's Achilles heel is its conversational interludes. They're not just dated and gratuitous, but also a knock-off from another record. By the time Estelle name-checks "The Miseducation" on the album's penultimate track, the damage has been done. It's already clear that All of Me isn't in the same league as Lauryn Hill's genre classic.