After generating buzz with the release of her EPs “Handmade Songs” and “Foreword,” as well as the riff heard around the world in her take on Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.,” Tori Kelly officialy makes her mark with her debut full-length album “Unbreakable Smile.” It’s finally here. This is not a drill. I repeat, THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
So what do you do when your all-time favorite vocalist releases her very first album? You lose emotional stability and cry, frolick on the floor, tell everyone about it and repeat.
All the happy tears have been shed and now I live to tell the tale. Below you will find my track-by-track review for the highly anticipated “Unbreakable Smile.” The album consists of 14 standard tracks along with two bonus tracks in the Target and iTunes releases.
1. “Where I Belong”
I’m just a girl and her guitar. Trying to give you my whole heart.
Tori Kelly has a story … and she begins to tell it with this song. The first track from “Unbreakable Smile” is a minute and a half long acoustic introduction that represents the bridge between her last EP and her first album. This short yet sincere clip, Kelly gives listeners a taste of her grounded personality and who she is as an artist.
2. “Unbreakable Smile”
‘Tori, this’ll sell more records.’ But I’d rather make them yawn than be a pawn on you chessboard.
This is a seamless continuation of the intro and was the first song written for the album.
Although the industry doubts her abilities and fears that she is too plain to succeed, the second track is about not letting any criticism disrupt her from being genuine. It did take a few listens for me to really get into it, but the message behind it is wonderful. Artists are known for conforming and doing whatever it takes to sell themselves … but “Unbreakable Smile” tells me Tori is not one of them!
3. “Nobody Love”
I try my best to fight it, say ‘I hate you,’ but I always stay.
This song comes with many firsts. Kelly’s first single from her debut album, her first appearance on the Billboard Hot 100, and her first single to enter Top 40 radio! She sings about a relationship that has no future, yet she can’t stay away from it. Familiar to many, this fun, upbeat track has an irresistible and addictive finger snapping chorus that is very hard to ignore.
4. “Expensive” (feat. Daye Jack)
We’ve all been taught to chase that dollar, but that’s not on my mind.
(Just when I thought I couldn’t handle another song with a saxophone in the background … Kelly pulls me back in.)
The fourth track on the album explains that her love is something that can not be bought. It appears to me that it stems from the same book Jennifer Lopez used for “Love Don’t Cost A Thing,” and I’m diggin’ it! This track makes use of more instruments than what fans are used to hearing from Kelly, but it makes for another catchy tune!
5. “Should’ve Been Us”
Back and forth like a tug of war. What’s it all for, do I want it back?
This is Kelly’s second single to enter pop radio that chronicles heartache and the “what ifs” after a relationship ends. I love this song. This track brings ‘90s R&B vibes to the album, and in a world of overproduced music and auto tune, this sound is much needed. (You can also check out the newly released music video here)
6. “First Heartbreak”
‘Cause for the first time I get worried … when I’m lookin’ in your eyes.
Warning: Cue. The. Tears. All of them.
Are you ready for a shot in the feels? This sentimental song is a personal track with heartfelt lyrics that fans of Kelly have felt before with “Paper Hearts.” Since she released a 15 second preview of this song, it was love at first listen and I could not wait to get my hands on the full version. It’s safe to say that it was worth the wait and is at the top of my favorite songs list. The bridge is everything.
7. “I Was Made For Loving You” (feat. Ed Sheeran)
Please don’t scar this young heart, just take my hand.
This song has “Ed Sheeran was here” written all over it. I didn’t know how important a Tori Kelly and Ed Sheeran duet was until I heard the seventh track on the album. This collaboration is so beautifully well done, and when both of their voices come together in the chorus … tears will fall and you will swoon. Knowing a true friendship exists between the two makes the song all the more sweet.
8. “City Dove”
I don’t really know my fate; I just know I’m on my way.
OK … I must say I did find myself checking to see how long the song lasted so I could move on to the next track. However, I love the message of the song–“we are destined for something greater than ourselves”–and as I continue to play the album, I’m hoping it will grow on me.
So if it’s talk that you want from me then maybe you should let me in.
OK. I really, really, really like this song. Kelly describes the ninth track as “wanting the world to go away,” and it’s very reminiscent of her earlier work. This smooth melody stands out from the rest, and I recommend listening to it with your headphones on full blast. Satisfaction guaranteed.
If you lose your soul, then you lose it all.
This raw live track full of contradictions about the music business falls into the theme of this entire album and could easily be considered an extension of “Unbreakable Smile.” It is also a reminder of not only Tori’s vocal ability, but of what happens when you lose yourself.
11. “Art of Letting You Go”
It’s always you I go back to; I know it’s danger.
I can’t seem to master the art of comprehending how her voice does what it does. The 11th track chronicles not being able to forget about someone and has a slower tone than the other songs, yet it still meshes well with the rest of the album.
12. “California Lovers” (feat. LL Cool J)
Maybe I was just being stupid for thinking that my first love would last.
This song deserves to be on everyone’s summer playlist, however it could easily be a hit or miss for some listeners. But in my case, I am jamming for days. Every album needs a fun summer song that makes you want to go on an adventure, and “California Lovers” with a little dose of LL Cool J is just the one.
13. “Falling Slow”
From time to time I lose my mind, but don’t you worry.
Usually by the end of an album, listeners are ready to check out and start over from the beginning while the last few songs go unappreciated. This track makes me want to do anything but that.
This is the only Tori that I know how to be.
I don’t know what it is … but I go hard on this track. According to Kelly, she wanted to end the album the same way that she opened it – with a positive story. Adding a little taste of rap, this track closes the standard edition of the album with a reminder that Tori will not be anyone other than herself and serves as a great message that neither should you! It is a perfect reflection of her personality and how confident she is in herself stating, “whether you leave or stay, this is me anyway.” This track deserves to be belted in the car with the windows rolled down. In other words, “Anyway” is on repeat and made it even harder for me to pick a favorite song. Jamming for days!
15. “Dear No One”
I’d love to have a soulmate, and God will give him to me someday.
Throwing it back, are we, Kelly? One of her most popular tunes, “Dear No One” is a fan favorite that was brought back as a bonus track for the album!
16. “Beautiful Things”
If you go, I think I’d understand. It’s not that easy holding my hand.
Distance makes the heart grow fonder … but maybe not in this case. This acoustic ballad gives you a taste of what it’s like to be in a long distance relationship and being able to understand why things don’t always work out.
Overall, “Unbreakable Smile” is a blend of R&B, rap and acoustic songs that you can play from start to finish. I loved the album and will worship it until the end of time. It’s so authentic, personal and nothing short of what I anticipated. Tori Kelly’s debut album not only proves how deserving she is for this moment, but also embodies everything her fans love about her. Those who have been on the ride with Kelly thus far will not be disappointed with how her first album played out and how grounded she remains with her growing popularity. It is a perfect representation of who she is as a person and explains how important it is for her to be able to stay true to who she is: “a California girl with big dreams.” I’m extremely proud of her and can not wait to see where the success of this album takes her next!
Rating: 10/10 will always recommend
On repeat for days:
“I Was Made For Loving You” (feat. Ed Sheeran)
“California Lovers” (feat. LL Cool J)
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to wrap myself in a blanket of Tori Kelly lyrics and live in this album. Leave a comment below or on Twitter with your favorite Tori Kelly song and what you think of her first full-length album!
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As always, thanks for reading!
By Rae Tolbert