Friday, June 26, 2015

Track by Track Review: Tori Kelly - Unbreakable Smile

Singer-songwriter and Capitol Records recording artist Tori Kelly has finally released her long awaited debut LP. Gaining traction from Vine and YouTube clips - as well as collaborations with acapella group Pentatonix - have given her enough traction for a budding career after somehow missing the Top 24 of American Idol years ago in season nine.

Where I Belong: An awkward, uneventful way to launch the album. Moments where it begins to shine are awkwardly shifted and diverted. 4/10

Unbreakable Smile: The first full length track is an uplifting Natasha Bedingfield style mid-tempo. "God made me sexy / Who cares if only I know?" is the most clever lyric, but also one of the few decent ones. Tori definitely doesn't care, and neither will the listener. 5.5/10

Nobody Love: The Max-Martin produced, summery, moderate hit Nobody Love sets a much more suitable pace for the album, even if it is somewhat of a Problem-copy cat with its large verse-slim chorus format. 9/10

Expensive: Another up-tempo is very appreciated. Essentially a sassy Uptown Funk with gospel undertones, what more could Kelly need? 9.5/10

Should've Been Us: A fiery Kelly has emerged (another appreciated Kelly varient). The chorus is filled with high wails and head bobbing syncopations. The rasp on "both know?" To die for (even if it is strained a bit). 8.5/10

First Heartbreak: From the title, one has to wonder how this song will tie to an album called "Unbreakable Smile." "If you ever loved me / That would be my first heartbreak" is dare one say.. genius? Lyrically it's top notch, but the production is generic and uninspired. 7.5/10

I Was Made For Loving You (feat. Ed Sheeran): A Phillip Phillips style folk ballad that straddles the line between cliché and moving. 6.5/10

City Dove: City Dove gets the same diagnosis as it's preceding track, except it's blatantly cliché. Strangely however, the longer it plays, the more genuine it becomes. Likely a grower for most fans and critics. 6/10

Talk: The intro is laughable with it's awkward Oopma Lumpa upbeat accentuations, but it settles into a genuine groove with Kelly's falsetto front and center. It feels like "Talk" doesn't have much to say, you could very easily skip the song and nothing would be lost from the album. 6/10

Funny - (Live): This live track doesn't even sound live compared to the rest of Kelly's studio vocals, every song sounds wonderfully live on Unbreakable Smile (except for at the end of this track where she sounds out of breath reaching for the top of her range). Lyrically it's pretty corny and it sounds more like slam poetry, but at this point these comments just sound exhausted. 5/10

Art of Letting You Go: Enough with the mid-tempos! The dead horse is being beaten into the Egyptian afterlife. At this point, one should consider turning their sound off. The actual song is again, mediocre to okay at beast. 5/10

California Lovers (feat. LL Cool J): This bouncy and (finally) fun track would've been appreciated 6 tracks ago. At this point it's too little too late. Unbreakable Smile has gone off the road, and it's going to be very hard for it to get back on track. 7.5/10

Falling Slow: Another merciless mid-tempo that's on the wrong side of the metronome. 4.5/10

Anyways: Credits are rolling, thank god we can all go home. Weird way to end the album without reaffirming a message or idea. 4/10

Unbreakable Smile relies too heavily on melodramatic mid-tempos to be a bearable album to listen through all the way. There are moments of great artistry here, but there are also far too many bland and tasteless ones. Unbreakable Smile is a pep talk turned into a nightmare, though it is given some nice moments thanks to Kelly's ridiculously agile and emotional voice. Lesson for the sophomore album? Less reflective mid-tempos, and some more songs that make the listener have an "unbreakable smile."

Overall: 5/10

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