Wednesday, March 25, 2015

True Romance

The obvious question to ask of Estelle's fourth album is, "What makes true romance?" That's the question I was planning to tackle with this blog post - my initial intention was to go through the record, track by track, and compile a kind of recipe for true love based on the ingredients that Estelle's songs suggest (true romance is passionate, true romance is long-lasting, etc.)

But things got complicated when I actually looked closely at the eleven tracks that make up True Romance. You see, this album is far more than merely a catalogue of components; its a bona fide concept album with its own love story to tell, and in telling it, it presents a different, far more interesting question for us to chew on.

Having said that, my 'What Makes Love?' list was going pretty well for the first five songs. Time After Time is all about commitment and honesty, while single Conqueror promotes perseverance and forgiveness:

"We all make mistakes, you might fall on your face, don't ever give up"

The preposterously infectious Something Good emphasises the importance of self-esteem in a relationship - it helps to know that you bring "something good" to the table, and that the other person benefits from your being together just as much as you do - before Make Her Say (Beat It Up) and Time Share (Suite 509) take a moment to examine the gross, sticky stuff that I'm told sometimes happens when you love somebody.

"They gonna need a whole crew to clean up what we do"

It's at this point, however, that the album starts deconstructing itself. The Same deals with the boredom that can seep into a relationship after a while, and it's interesting to compare this song to Time After Time; the album's opener presents consistency as an important aspect of a good relationship ("time after time, it's you and I"), but The Same finds Estelle taking a second look and realising that there's a very fine line between consistency and monotony.

Similarly, Fight For It is something of an antithesis to Conqueror. We're into the second half of the record now, and it's clear that things are starting to go wrong between Estelle and her unnamed beau:

Said that we were meant to be, but why won't you fight for it?
Told me that you'd never leave, but why won't you fight for it?
Going to have some ups and downs, it doesn't mean throw in the towel,
Why don't we fight for it?

Conqueror made it clear that Estelle is a 'never give up' sort of person, and in Fight For It, she's audibly disappointed in her man for failing to show that same resolve. He's ready to give up, and her all-conquering, keep-trying MO is really being put to the test here.

After two songs about the sour side of love, we begin to see what Estelle was really thinking when she called this album 'True Romance'. She's not singing about true love (at least, not in the Princess Bride sense); she's singing about real love, the real-life kind that has lows as well as highs. The album could just as easily have been called Realistic Romance.

So here's the real question at the heart of True Romance: what's the difference between twoo wuv and true love? Are they irreconcilable, or is it possible to have one within the other?

If there is an answer, I'm pretty sure it's somewhere in the lyrics of Gotcha Love, the album's ninth track:

The song opens with Estelle saying, "True romance" - that is, the name of the whole frigging album. She might as well say, "Oi! You lot! Pay attention, 'cause this one's important!"

By this time, Estelle has overcome her misgivings and decided that this relationship is worth sticking with after all. The lyrics pair quite nicely with those of Something Good, which I mentioned earlier; that's a song about being self-confident and acknowledging that your partner is lucky to have you, and sure enough, we revisit this theme in the chorus of Gotcha Love:

I'm so lucky I got him, got him
'Bout a million men took a shot and lost my love
Ain't he lucky he got it?

That's Estelle's version of ideal love in a nutshell: I'm lucky to have you, and you're lucky to have me. We're both lucky.

And that, I suppose, is the answer to The Big Question: if you want to have perfect, fairytale love in the dark 'n' gritty real world, you have to have confidence in yourself as much as in your other half. That's why Conqueror - seemingly not a love song at all - is on this album (I must admit that I didn't really get that at first), and that's the message that I believe Estelle wants us to take away from this whole thing.

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