Elle Varner’s “Perfectly Imperfect” is frustratingly imperfect, alternately terrific and disappointing. So even if the time is right for the emergence of the next Whitney or Mariah or Alicia, Varner isn’t in their league, at least not with this debut.
The 23-year-old R&B singer delivered a good tease of her talents a year ago with the single “Only Wanna Give It to You,” a bumpy romp featuring Varner’s enthusiastic rasp — “Your kisses hold me hostage, and I don’t wanna stop it” — and a gratuitous rap by J. Cole.
That song serves as “Perfectly Imperfect’s” opener, and the vocalist outshines that promising leadoff with several subsequent tracks.
She elevates the standard “I’ll be there for you” track “Leaf” with smoky restraint and creative intonations. And the playful “Oh What a Night” is an imaginative club song that emphasizes cool style over hot studio trickery with its dangerously funky groove and cascading chorus.
Best of all, Varner is accessible on “Perfectly Imperfect,” a young woman who yearns for love and acceptance (expressed in the soulful and simple “Welcome Home”) — and the confidence to make it happen. Her gutsy delivery on the melancholy ballad “Not Tonight” is disarming as she wears her insecurities on her sleeve, singing, “Maybe in another life, I could be the girl who walks up to the guy,” but admitting she’s too “overwhelmed and terrified” to make that move. And the chunky closer “So Fly” is funny and poignant at the same time as she checks off her physical shortcomings and notes, “I’ve got a beautiful soul, but only four people know.”
So it’s too bad this multidimensional singer is attached to the one-trick hokum of “Refill” and the disjointed “Stop the Clock” that bounces between disruptive swells and incohesive diversions. It also seems the producers and writers could have helped her sex up the nostalgic-soul, would-be seduction song “Sound Proof Room,” they could have steered her from the overwrought, rote strain of “I Don’t Care,” and they could have found a better context for “Damn Good Friends” than just having her ramble through an onslaught of words.
Still, the letdowns of “Perfectly Imperfect” are trumped by the highlights, and Elle Varner’s star has the potential to shine for decades.
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of five)
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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