|Recording information: Home School Studios, New York, NY; In The Sky Studios; PatchWerk Recording Studios, Atlanta, GA; Platinum Sound Recording Studios, New York, NY; Roz Lab Studio, Los Angeles, CA; Sarm West Coast, Los Angeles, CA; SARM West, London; The Hampton, Philadelphia, PA; You Know Me Well Recordings, Atlanta, GA.
|"American Boy" put Estelle in the Top Ten of the Billboard Hot 100, but none of the three subsequent singles from Shine touched that chart. The trend continued with a short series of A-sides during 2010 and 2011, with "Break My Heart" the exception. That song missed the Hot 100, but it actually fared slightly better on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart than "American Boy," likely due to the presence of hot-as-ever rapper Rick Ross. This sums up the singer/rapper's predicament. She's in danger of being considered a one-hit wonder -- one who is probably too mature and R&B-oriented for enduring pop-star status, yet she's so closely tied to a big pop hit that it's something of a hindrance in the climate of 2012 R&B/rap radio. A couple of those failed singles, including "American Boy" retread "Fall in Love" (featuring Nas), did not make it onto All of Me, a concise album at 40 minutes -- just over a tenth of which consists of several interludes, segments from an intense discussion about romantic relationships. After an opening pair of tracks where Estelle reverts to her old self as an enjoyable MC, the album settles into a sequence of songs that covers a wide variety of emotional states within the framework of a romance. In the strikingly moody "Break My Heart," as in "please don't," Estelle vividly expresses the apprehension of entering a relationship with trust issues. Despite its downcast tone, it's the album's standout by a sizeable margin, and it's also where Estelle sounds most natural. The liquid midtempo jam "Cold Crush," something of a throwback to early-'80s synth funk ? la the System, could be a sleeper summertime hit on adventurous radio stations. Much of what remains is pleasant and executed with finesse, yet not as memorable as the majority of The 18th Day or Shine. The appearances from Chris Brown and Trey Songz may qualify as the least necessary collaborations of 2012. It's unfortunate that the closing "Do My Thing," featuring boisterous Janelle Mon e interplay, organ, horns, and handclaps, won't get nearly as much attention. ~ Andy Kellman