So much for Anglo-American relations, and Britain’s ‘special relationship’ with George Bush. Estelle knows how to get ahead with Transatlantic partnerships, and Shine is the winning end product of her musical dalliances with John Legend and Kanye West, who head an illustrious guest list on the singer’s second album.
It’s sad to note that this came about, seemingly, through V2’s failure to recognise a genuine talent when they had one. With 1980 under her belt you would have thought the charts were Estelle’s for the taking, but the record label’s promotion was aimed at keeping her underground, in with the grime scene.
Yet, as Shine shows, it’s possible to incorporate elements of that into even the most soulful tracks and not suffer. For while you could take Estelle home to meet your parents, there’s an ever-present glint in her eye that’s not for messing. She can coo like a dove but rap like a London street girl.
It also shows in No Substitute Love, an update of George Michael‘s Faith that registers some confusion with a relationship, but isn’t going to wait around for long to find out the real outcome. It’s a combination of strength and vulnerability that lies at the emotional heart of the record, and fully flowers in the gorgeous love song More Than Friends.
What really shines through, though, is how Estelle has added a large pinch of soul to take her music to the next level. The wide-eyed American Boy is the obvious example of this, Kanye West bowing to her talents before the open air chorus that we’re all hearing on the radio.
She may now live in New York, but London will always remain in the singer’s blood – and the irrefutable evidence of this comes with the dubby Magnificent, the ska flavoured Come Over and the portrayal of romance in an English summer that is Lovin’ In The Rain, sitting at the record’s core.
Potential singles abound, and the guest slots are well filled – Gnarls Barkley‘s Cee Lo, Jack Splash and Legend himself all adding their talents.
But this is all about Estelle, and her wonderful blend of the streetwise and the soulful, bringing a Brooklyn attitude to her a sweet English vulnerability, mixed with some urban London grittiness. Compared to the admittedly prodigious vocals of Duffy and Adele, this feels like the real deal.