Tori Kelly Shows Off Her Tremendous Pipes On Debut Album ‘Unbreakable Smile’ [Review]


Tori Kelly, Unbreakable Smile © Capitol

Okay, none of that pointless introductory bull – let’s just cut to the chase! Pop/R&B singer/songwriter Tori Kelly has mad pipes – really mad. In other words, this girl can absolutely blow! Her debut album Unbreakable Smile isn’t the ‘exemplification of perfection’ per se, but vocally, Kelly shows herself to house quite a profound, stunning instrument. Unbreakable Smile ultimately shows itself to be a respectable, enjoyable debut album.

Following the obligatory intro/interlude “Where I Belong,” Title track “Unbreakable Smile” serves as the set’s first full-length song. It’s a solid urban-pop record with crossover appeal written all over it. As sunny and feel good as it is, arguably, “Nobody Love” trumps it, finding Kelly owning the song from the jump. The production is a selling point, with the verses featuring dusty, soulful beat and bright horns, while the chorus opts for even more ‘swag’ – a contemporary hip-hop beat. Besides the production itself, this is a terrific, relatively memorable joint.

“Expensive” keeps Unbreakable Smile rolling right along, with the assist from rapper Daye Jack. The results are quite similar to the title track and “Nobody Love” – top-notch, fun pop. “Expensive” may remind some of the songs from Christina Aguilera’s Back To Basics album from 2006 – retro infusion going full force. “Should’ve Been Us” likewise is effective without being a profound, game changing statement. Still, have we lauded those pipes enough? This girl can SANG! Is Tori an angel or minimally her pipes angelic?

On “First Heartbreak” Kelly sings her face off, infusing authentic emotion to the nth degree. She has more of a ‘singer/songwriter’ moment on “I Was Made For Loving You” featuring Ed Sheeran. “I Was Made For Loving You” lacks the urban flavor that characterizes the majority of the cuts preceding it. This is a welcome departure, giving Kelly a different ‘look’ – well ‘sound.’ “I Was Made For Loving You” isn’t necessarily the album’s most exciting moment, but it is a moving one.

“City Dove” is a rousing, anthemic pop song whose best moments arrive at the end.   It’s not bad, but it takes a while to percolate. “Talk” sports one of the best grooves of the album that makes you “wanna bust a move” for lack of a better description. The groove is reminiscent of 70s pop/soul, once more finding Kelly throwing in a dash of old school. The song itself is good, not transcendent or revolutionary. “Funny,” a live performance that follows, shows off Kelly’s chops but still doesn’t necessarily deliver a ‘song’ that is a homerun.

“Art Of Letting You Go” continues to showcase Kelly’s prodigious instrument, as she tackes the verses in her lower register, ascending to her full power on the chorus. She enlists the help of LL Cool J on the corny, but fun “California Lovers.” Two of the album’s best songs conclude in the heart wrenching, love-centric “Falling Slow” and another infectious ‘groovy’ pop-soul cut, “Anyway” “Anyway” is reminiscent of something Natasha Bedingfield might sing – think “These Words.”

So how does Unbreakable Smile stack up when it’s all said and done? Overall, it is a pleasant pop album with crossover appeal. What it’s not is the ‘second coming’ or revolutionary pop. As referenced earlier, arguably, Tori Kelly the musician is more memorable and more polished than the songs on Unbreakable Smile. But for a debut album, there’s plenty to like about it, even beyond Kelly’s thrilling vocals.

Favorites: “Unbreakable Smile,” “Nobody Love,” “Expensive,” “Falling Slow,” “Anyway”

★★★½

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