Wikked Lil' Grrrls
Reprise Records, 2005
REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/24/2005
Esthero is an R&B renegade. The Canadian-born singer has an attitude of a bad bitch of R&B, but has such a strong sense of jazz and most variants of modern pop in her music that her style of R&B is truly unique to herself.
Wikked Lil' Grrrls, from the way the title is misspelled, makes it pretty clear that this is an R&B/hip-hop record. The pumped-up killer opener "We R In Need Of A Musical Revolution" totally suffocates this expectation. The song, with its heavy bass and synth lines and well-mannered innocence, is through-and-through eighties soul, except for the explicit media-abhorring lyrics that go like, "I'm so sick and tired of the shit on the radio and MTV, they only play the same thing," not to mention the unpleasant references to Britney and Ashanti.
What follows next is the spoken-word by Jemeni, "Dragonfly's Intro." In all the purity of the spoken-word, it goes: "I am at the hip-hop show, head-boppin' in the back / Smoking anything that'll burn / During the intermission, I am in the club bathroom praying in earnest for Jeff Buckley's return." The spoken-word, hip-hop's pride, doesn't sound so true to its roots when it makes a reference to Jeff Buckley, does it? But, this is Esthero; who loves the reprehensible combination of hip-hop and rock.
The only rock number on the record, "Everyday Is A Holiday With You" (co-written with John and Yoko's Sean Ono Lennon,), has absolutely no shadow of the hardcore Latino tune that precedes it, or the smooth Sade-ish jazz cut that follows it. Executed in a 100% Brit-pop fashion, "Everyday" has Esthero sounding like a Beatles-inspired British singer of Scottish descent, who could have very well been a lead for Fools Garden (of "Lemon Tree" fame).
Though the presence of R&B on the record stands out most prominently, it is Esthero's use of jazz and her use of horn and string arrangements that makes the album outstanding. From the crestfallen ("Dragonfly's Outro," "Melancholy Melody," and "My Torture") to the more buoyant ("Wikked Lil' Grrrls" and "Bad Boy Clyde"), these horn and string arrangements fuse fifties Broadway, sixties psychedelia, and contemporary soul in such a manner that these songs are pleasures to listen to, as well as complements to these great genres.
Esthero's mastery with different genres of music doesn't seem all that clever at times, when she tries too hard to sound hip-hop, inviting guests to emcee on a few of her numbers. The result is shoddy -- the rapping sounds too forced and out-of-place, and the guests? Well, except for the smart Jemeni, the other rappers only bring a genuine feeling of odium toward them.
Esthero's blending of so many different genres makes her a very exciting singer. Amongst the current family of soul singers, Prince has been the only one to give soul music unimaginably audacious and strange twists; Esthero is his female counterpart. The true talent of an artist lies not in the ability to cross genres, but in the comfort with which this is attained. Just ask Esthero.