Chrisette Michele - Milestone (2016)

Chrisette Michele
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Chrisette Michele - Milestone

On her fifth studio album, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Chrisette Michele sets a new milestone for artistically merited vocalists looking to lower their standards in the most obviously commercial way possible. From the opening of the unimaginative “Diamond Letter” (in which the wide-ranging singer whines, “I’m writing you a letter/With a diamond on my finger”), the tone is set for 16 tracks of all too frequently painfully monotous fare seriously lacking in melody and meaningfulness. A far cry from previous gems such as “Be OK,” “Blame It on Me,” and “A Couple of Forevers,” tracks here such as the lagging “Steady” and the cocky “These Stones” seem to willfully eschew the soulfulness that has consistently garnered Michele recognition over the past decade.

Chrisette Michele - Milestone

On her fifth studio album, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Chrisette Michele sets a new milestone for artistically merited vocalists looking to lower their standards in the most obviously commercial way possible. From the opening of the unimaginative “Diamond Letter” (in which the wide-ranging singer whines, “I’m writing you a letter/With a diamond on my finger”), the tone is set for 16 tracks of all too frequently painfully monotous fare seriously lacking in melody and meaningfulness. A far cry from previous gems such as “Be OK,” “Blame It on Me,” and “A Couple of Forevers,” tracks here such as the lagging “Steady” and the cocky “These Stones” seem to willfully eschew the soulfulness that has consistently garnered Michele recognition over the past decade.

Audiences may have hoped Michele’s departure from Motown Records signaled a creative decision for the “better,” and 2015’s EP The Lyricist’s Opus was an encouraging step in the right direction. But listening to the independently released Milestone, it seems that her goal now is to transition from being a culturally relevant artist to an unimaginative act with a place in the “in” crowd. That the same beats and tempo permeate so many of the cuts is just the beginning of the damage, with near-monotone, largely unmemorable verses and choruses looming in the forefront. Although Michele retains her unique tone and phrasing techniques on some of the selections, there are other moments when she appears to be emulating her contemporaries—albeit in a half-hearted, inauthentic way. In the former case, one of the CD’s brighter moments comes with “Reinvent the Wheel,” a refreshing three-and-a-half-minutes with international flair and a message that speaks to individuality. Regarding the latter, the obnoxiously predictable “Edge of the Bar” drags along with lyrics pandering to the lowest common denominator, sung in a notably lazy fashion.

Besides “Reinvent the Wheel,” there are a couple of pieces of Milestone that suggest Michele hasn’t thrown in the towel all the way when it comes to offering songs that favor substance over style. The mellow “Soulmate” finds her in a comfortable vocal zone that brings to mind Erykah Badu. While the arrangement is hip enough to appeal to the younger market Michele seems to be chasing after with much of the album, it manages to do so with more understatement than the bulk of the material. Similarly, the single “Unbreakable” has more melodic variation and instrumental fullness than most of the remaining fare.

The rest of Milestone fails to offer any distinguishing personality or emotion; rather, it’s striking in how blatantly inferior it is to anything Michele has recorded previously. Perhaps she wants to just let loose and not be taken seriously; the problem is, there’s nothing fun or engaging about entries such as “Indy Girl” and “Private Destination”—the words are far more of a lyricist’s formula than an opus, and the vacuous programming behind her quickly dies as a seemingly endless loop rather than breathing any life into the vocal experiments she’s apparently carrying out.

Hopefully, Milestone is just a temporary phase in which Michele is just getting some commercial cravings out of her system. As her sales and accolades show, she’s clearly admired by many for her authenticity and creativity. But if this is her new direction, then longtime fans can at least savor her earlier work as quality R&B with a distinctive blend of classic and contemporary elements which not many singer-songwriters have matched in recent years. It’s just unfortunate that she chose to title this particular album Milestone, for it is an overall forgettable record that pales greatly in comparison to the rest of her discography. Not Recommended. 

by Justin Kantor
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