Final rating: 7.2/10
This is a fighter. This is an absolute brawler we have in our midst. Tori Kelly seems to have exploded from our of the blue, and already her vocal work is being revered. Her soulful delivery is being plastered all over the radio, and we couldn’t be more thankful for this. What we have here is an up and coming artist who will one day release her Beyoncé or her Like a Prayer album. Yes, this is a way to start a decently rated review, because this is the breath of fresh air Ms. Kelly has bestowed upon us with Unbreakable Smile.
If you look closer (you won’t have to look too far either), you can see where both the fight and the surrender are. Kelly is a self professed singer against the commercialism that has destroyed mainstream music. There was once a time where popular music didn’t necessarily have to be lazy. Her lyrics deal with her secured identity within a wishy washy industry. She incorporates hip hop, motown and even funk within her poppy r&b to stretch out her passions within this album. For a pop release, there is enough variety here to get casual listeners going and keep them satisfied for a while.
The thing is that Kelly fights for artistic freedom, and yet she also still feels a little bit contained. The music, while catchy and uplifting, can feel formulaic at times. There’s nothing wrong with tackling the blueprints of the perfect pop songs, and many have tried for decades. It just feels like an eternal battle when you hear words that declare freedom in a setting that is a bit safe.
All of that aside, this is still a debut album, and sometimes first impressions serve as a taste of what is to come. Van Morrison had to woo the public before he released his Astral Weeks attack on the music world. Tori Kelly is talented and pure enough to have many gems coming her way. She is also the huge saving grace on Unbreakable Smile. She has fun but is serious about her intentions. She feels in control, especially with her soaring singing. The music may not always take flight, but Kelly will every single time.
Tori Kelly needed a platform to be heard, and she got one. Unbreakable Smile is a pleasurable listen with a lot of joy and many messages to say. While it can be reserved, I hope Unbreakable Smile is merely a preview. Kelly has the tools and capabilities to spin the genre entirely on its head, and that would be an absolute experience to hear. For now, Unbreakable Smile is worth a listen. It’s more heartfelt than a good chunk of the radio friendly albums you’ll hear this year, and it wouldn’t hurt to check out a promising new act like the airborne starlet Tori Kelly.