Still, the actual first single off her last album didn’t do anything either…
Erick Bieritz: The “1980” girl sinks into musical nostalgia again. This time it’s a bit of Miami bass vamping with a pop-house bridge to boot. But Estelle is no Khia, and probably not even a Missy Elliott on the freak scale. This feels forced.
Anthony Easton: In two weeks I am going to a library at the Leather Archives in Chicago, and watching a video described as: “unknown individual that calls himself Cowboy appears to be a master at whipping. Videos show various men tied to trees being whipped while having their genitals played with. Videos are home made and from his personal collection, they are copies of the originals according to a note found in the donation box.” This is my new standard of freakdom. Estelle does not measure up.
Martin Skidmore: I’ve liked Kardinal Offishall for a while, and his lively ragga-tinged rapping suits this well, which I can’t say of Estelle. There’s not so much opportunity in this – the “I can be a freak” clip dominates this (she may well deliver this), the “Back To Life” part comes second, and the guest verse is more noticeable than Estelle’s rather unimposing raps. By the second listen I was impatient with the refrain.
Kat Stevens: Really not convinced by this. The bouncing chorus bassline is fine (as is Kardinal Offishall’s verse), but the rest is a catalogue of ERROR. The “I can be your freak” sample is incredibly grating, the Soul II Soul hook sticks out like a sore thumb and Estelle sounds like she’s reading her rhymes from a piece of tickertape. Given the vague whiff of bawdy sex games I’m amazed that she doesn’t appear as a French maid anywhere in the video.
Michaelangelo Matos: Is this her version of the post-“Bonkers” wave? Estelle’s voice has a fine enough grain to my ear to withstand being chopped up syllable by syllable, and when she comes in with an exaggerated whisper two-thirds in, it’s clearly tongue-in-cheek. And good for her that “freak” means dominatrix rather than submissive here. Doesn’t mean I want to hear the song all that often, though.
Alfred Soto: What with the Soul II Soul shout-out and Estelle bellowing over a beat Robin S would have killed for, who says the nineties are dead? Estelle’s gravelly tone situates the track squarely in Obama: Year Two though.
Alex Ostroff: “Freak” is a left-field move for Estelle, ditching the reggae- and rap-inflected soul that garnered comparisons to Lauryn Hill and helped her break America. Instead, she jumps on a jittery house track, deploying her mic skills in service of an aesthetic that owes more to UK funky than anything she’s done to date. The sample loop doubles as a statement of purpose: “I can be your freak every day of every week,” and while it’s unexpected coming from Estelle, it’s utterly infectious. It’s hard, after all, to hate on a track that gleefully intones, “Let me see those handcuffs up / Let me see that leather gear / Kiss him, slap him, pull his hair / Make him your bitch in here.” Unfortunately, those are two other elements of the song: an unnecessary Kardinal Offishall, and a Soul II Soul interpolation that never quite gels with. (On the plus side, DJs the world over now have a perfect segue out of Big Boi’s “Shutterbugg”, which samples the other half of “Back to Life”.)
Alex Macpherson: Estelle’s on the right path here, but only seems to have got a quarter of the way down it. She’s charismatic and insouciant enough that she should be able to pull off dirrty electro-juke, but personality only takes you so far when your verses are as underwritten and uninspired as this – it’s reminiscent of Eve pissing away the chance of making a truly great dubstep-rap fusion on “Me N My”. Meanwhile, chucking in that super-obvious Soul II Soul sample on the chorus just makes it sound like Estelle and David Guetta didn’t have the courage to carry through their sparse, unmelodic convictions. Talking of Guetta, it’s basically time for him to Go Away Forever now, right?
Hillary Brown: This kind of stresses me out in that it makes me feel like I’m supposed to be working out while it plays. I don’t want to do more reps!