You’ve got to feel for Estelle. She’s probably going to join the history books as a sort of female Craig David, forever known for her contribution to one particular time. It’s quite a sign that her American Boy compatriot, one Kanye West, has gone on to bend genre and reinvent form while Estelle has pretty much remained in 2008. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if that stasis was behind the title of her new album True Romance, completely unaware of a new zeitgeist-shaping popstar who recently blazed a trail with an album of the same name.
On the bright side Estelle does seem keen on advancing her sound a little, though at the cost of very little lyrical dynamism. While opening track Time After Time – with its addictive handclap chorus – is as strong as anything she’s ever done (a middling bar, to be fair), it’s still navigating lines like “I wrote this song to tell you you’re perfect” as opposed to anything remotely incisive. Had she done so, we might forgive a ballad like Conqueror appearing as soon as track two, but it’s hard to love a power chorus that regurgitates “I’d rather stand tall than live on my knees”.
If merely reading that invokes the feeling that we all deserve better, that’s applicable to the record as a whole. Something Good / Devotion crackles at first with some classic dance-pop potential, but given how resolutely Mary J Blige recently nailed that vibe, Estelle’s performance feels even more wanting. Of course, the lifelessly programmed drums and last-minute horns don’t really help.
There’s also the fact that we almost fell asleep during the supposedly ‘sexy’ Make Her Say (Beat It Up) and Time Share (Suite 509), which doesn’t bode well for an R&B-pop album that ought to be front-loaded with bangers, especially in the face of all the new blood giving life to this field. As expected from Estelle by this point, it all feels hopelessly outdated: True Romance tells us nothing new about love, nothing new about the genre, and certainly nothing new about Estelle as an artist. Consider that American Boy goodwill officially squandered.