Review: Estelle’s ‘Lover’s Rock’ is a love story for the ages

The album reveals a deeply personal side of the British singer-songwriter as it recounts Estelle’s parents’ decades-long romance and explores Estelle’s personal trials in love.

Photo: VP Records


Estelle's 'Lover's Rock' album cover
Photo: VP Records

Estelle’s fifth studio album, ‘Lover’s Rock’, draws the listener into a love story for the ages. The album reveals a deeply personal side of the British singer-songwriter as it recounts Estelle’s parents’ decades-long romance and explores Estelle’s personal trials in love. ‘Lover’s Rock’ is an album you’ll want to listen to in its entirety, as the tale its lyrics reveal is courageous, captivating and inspiring.

The album — released by VP records and Estelle’s own music label, Established 1980 Inc— follows the British singer’s 2015 release, ‘True Romance’.

In sound, ‘Lover’s Rock’ draws inspiration from the recording artist’s diasporic heritage, reflecting Reggae, Soca, Dancehall and Afrobeat influences. Estelle’s strong, satin vocals smoothly welcome features from several artists of the Caribbean and African backgrounds on more than half of the tracks.

As a whole, the work pays homage to its titular R&B-influenced Reggae subgenre, a sound that became popular in the United Kingdom in the latter part 1970s and remained popular through the 80s. Estelle, 38, was born in the middle of the genre’s peak period, to a father who was in a band that played Lover’s Rock music and who was also personally involved in crafting the genre’s sound, as she recounted to NPR’s First Listen:

And my dad had a big hand in Louisa Mark’s album [Breakout (1981)]… that kind of set the standard for what lovers rock was like in the UK

The Reggae album recounts the real-life love story of Estelle’s parents. They met during the ‘Lover’s Rock’ era, broke up after having three children when the artist was three-years-old, reunited twenty years later after her father ran into Estelle’s younger sister by chance, and eventually married when Estelle was 33.

The fourteen-track album begins with a soft guitar, introducing lovers who seem to be nothing short of soulmates in ‘Easy’, a song in which Estelle demonstrates her versatility as an artist when she drops a few bars the middle of a harmonizing duet with American singer Luke James.

The romance quickly heats up in ‘Meet Up’ featuring British-Nigerian Afrobeats artist Maleek Berry and ‘Really Want’ featuring Jamaican Dancehall artist Konshens & Jamaican-American twins Nick and Navi. The latter describes a steamy and intimate slow wind between two lovers well-aware of each other’s sexual intentions.

The pair seems to be on track to make it official in the solo track ‘Better’, the second single released from ‘Lover’s Rock’. They are obviously all-in when we hear: “Don’t know what kind of spell you got over me/But I don’t wanna let it go now,” in the following track, ‘Don’t Wanna’, featuring Jamaican Reggae and Dancehall singer, Kranium.

At that point, the mood shifts a bit, to a blend of feminine empowerment and cultural critique in the songs ‘Queen’ featuring Jamaican Reggae artist Chronixx, ‘Slow Down’ featuring Kingston-born Alicia Harley, and ‘Ain’t Yo Bitch’. In the interview with NPR, Estelle notes the tracks are the “clap back” her mother wasn’t able to give to give to critics at the time who spoke negatively about her relationship and having her children.

‘Queen’ conjures up the image of a powerful woman demanding much-deserved respect from her male counterpart with the following:

It’s a queen, she used to wearing crowns/ She gonna lead, cannot back down/No, don’t you test her/No, you caress her/If you are a king then a king should respect.

In ‘Slow Down’ Estelle reminds us to “shine like sun rays” and stop seeking outside approval to love ourselves with lines like, “couple likes don’t make you no cooler, no cooler,” because “your wave is your wave.”

A playful but direct denunciation of the term used in a disrespectful way toward women, ‘Ain’t Yo Bitch,’ kicks of its first verse with:

Here’s a little story/And it goes like this/Watch out how you call me/I’m not yo bitch.” #MicDrop. The listener hears Estelle blast the fuckbois who don’t address women with respect. She then ends the song with the repeated reminder “We are gold, not your hoe.

In a heartbreaking ‘Sweetly’ the relationship comes to a sudden halt as we hear “the breakup song Estelle’s parents never got” as NPR’s Jenny Gathright puts it. Estelle’s voice nonchalantly explains to a now ex-lover:

It ain’t gotta be all that, no/I could leave you so sweetly, so sweetly.

As Estelle tells the story to several outlets, her parent’s didn’t split on their own volition. Instead, their families — her father’s side Senegalese and her mother’s Grenadian — made the decision for them. Her father was told that her mother had gotten married, although she hadn’t (yet), and her mother was told the same about her father. After which, they went their separate ways and Estelle grew up without her biological father’s presence in her life. Estelle explains to Angela Yee’s Lip Service podcast, “African families and West Indian families are real strict, especially back in the 80s in the UK, first generation. [If] you came from there, you ran by the family code.”

‘Karma’, featuring Jamaican Dancehall artist, HoodCelebrityy reflects a painful breakup orchestrated by outsiders to the relationship. The final four tracks,’Lights Out’, ‘Love Like Ours’ featuring Jamaican-American Reggae singer Tarrus Riley, ‘One More Time’, and ‘Good For Us’ recount the lovers’ reunion.

‘Love Like Ours’ seems to give the proverbial middle finger to those who didn’t initially believe in the lovers’ destined union in the hook’s semi-taunting lyrics:

You need a love, love like our own, yeah/A love, love like ours/ You need a love, love like our own, yeah/Don’t hate on us.

In closing, the listener meets a far more mature couple that shuts out the haters in ‘Good for Us’, a song that illustrates a strong and supportive lifelong union. The chorus says it all:

It might not be good for anyone else/But it’s good for us/And I’m so glad that I found somebody/That I can trust/’Cause babe I got you/You got me too.

Personally, I’m a sucker for a good love story and I teared up at several points on my first listen through the entire album. The music completely swept me into all of the feels. The first half of the album reminded me of the intense emotions felt at the beginning of any new relationship. I applaud the empowering encouragement in ‘Queen’ and felt the fuckery in my soul when the artist denounced fuckboi antics in ‘Aint Yo Bitch’. My heart broke into pieces with the cold cut-off in ‘Sweetly’ and rejoiced when the two reunited in ‘Love Like Ours’ — a song that leaves one longing to (again) be the cause of someone’s smile.

Overall, I felt ‘Lover’s Rock’ was a romantic sunset to a busy Summer in music. The album gives the listener pause to consider ideas of fate, love and destiny. It may, in fact, even inspire one to reconsider an old flame.

For those pessimistically dating in today’s hookup culture that seemingly lends more to a proliferation of ‘situationships’ and co-parenting than long-term romantic relationships, ‘Lover’s Rock’ gives hope that one of those right swipes could turn out to be ‘the one’ after all.

Written by Manny King John


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