When it comes to R&B artists, Chrisette Michele is clearly among the elite – the crème de la crème. Michele has a stellar voice that ranks among the most unique regardless of genre. While Michele has been underrated throughout the course of her career, she’s delivered some exceptional material, even if it has been best appreciated by a more mature R&B audience. On her fifth studio album Milestone, Michele releases her first full-length independent LP. While Michele never goes ‘off-point’ vocally, generally speaking, Milestone lacks the magic of her past albums.
“Diamond Letter” kicks off Milestone respectably but don’t call it a knockout punch. Vocally, Michele is on fire as always – her performance supplants the song itself. Next, Michele surprises (or off puts) with “Steady,” a hip-hop, trap-oriented contemporary R&B cut. Hmm, Michele has never been associated with this type of song, so it’s different. It works, but again, couldn’t any number of R&B or pop artists with half of Chrisette Michele’s voice sing this? Regardless, it’s noteworthy if for nothing more than its shock value.
“Meant to Be” (featuring MeetSims) restores some of the classiness of Michele’s past, but it doesn’t necessarily “latch” in regards to memorability or notability. Still, can’t deny those pitch-perfect high notes on the signature line of the chorus. “Soulmate” continues on the relationship-driven sensibility of Milestone finding Michele proclaiming, “I’m just one half without my soul / one half without my soul.” Slick and chill, “Soulmate” suits Michele even with its modern touches.
“Unbreakable” is jubilant – CM clearly loves her man. Even if “Unbreakable” yields too much love, it does feature some of the catchier hooks of Milestone as well as increasing the tempo a smidge. “To The Moon” slows things back down, once more amplifying dedication, while “Make Me Fall” finds Michele nailing rhythmic melodic lines with remarkable agility. Neither rewrites love or R&B, but neither is subpar in the least.
Rick Ross joins Michele on “Equal,” one of the attractions of Milestone. Ross last appeared on Michele’s Let Freedom Ring (“So in Love”). That last collaboration packed more punch than “Equal,” which is okay but not particularly exciting. The other quibble with “Equal” is that Michele seems to play the redundancy card. Didn’t she already make the same point on “Soulmate?”
“These Stones” once more embodies R&B trends, much like “Steady.” Thoughts? Old Chrisette > than new Chrisette. On “Indy Girl” Michele is “independent woman” but – wait for it – she needs love. “Us Against the World” comes off unoriginal – how many times has this played out in all honesty? It’s not abysmal, but quite predictable. On closer “Reinvent The Wheel” (featuring Mali Music), Michele essentially places the task on herself to execute the actions of the song title, but the results are mixed or modest at best. Mali Music, a superb artist in his own right, does little to improve the song, unfortunately.
Beyond the twelve aforementioned songs, there is a deluxe edition of Milestone. Is the deluxe version necessary? Based on hearing the standard version, the deluxe is best suited for die-hard fans. It expands the album from 44 minutes to 67 minutes. 44 minutes is sufficient and represents the typical length of most studio albums these days.
In the case of Milestone, the fact that this is an independent release has little to do with its flaws. There are many terrific indie R&B albums – sometimes it can be hard to tell a difference. The main issue with Milestone is that Michele often moves away from the eclecticism, old school sensibilities she’s been known for.
Milestone lacks a gem the likes of “If I Have My Way,” “Epiphany (I’m Leaving)” or soulful tour de force “A Couple of Forevers.” Perhaps she’s aiming to go a different direction, but he would’ve been better served to have adhered to the M.O. “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” in this case. All in all, it has its moments, but could use a few more memorable ones.
Favorites: “Diamond Letter,” “Steady,” “Soulmate” and “Unbreakable”
Chrisette Michele • Milestone • Chrisette Michele LLC / Rich Hipster • Release Date: 6.10.16