Music runs through Elle Varner’s veins. The daughter of parents who both were songwriters and publishers, the singer-to-be attended music programs and academies for the majority of her academic life and eventually graduated from NYU’s renowned Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music — she was even voted “most likely to get signed” and “most likely to win a Grammy” at the ceremony. In October 2009, she signed with MBK/J-RCA Records and inked a co-publishing agreement with Sony Music.
Now, with the release of her debut album Perfectly Imperfect, I strongly believe Varner is on the path of actually winning a Grammy.
Perfectly Imperfect was produced mainly by up-and-coming production duo Oak & Pop, with the assistance of Varner’s father, Jimmy. They each do a great job creating beats that match Varner’s soulful, raspy-yet-smooth voice.
The album kicks off with her debut single “Only Wanna Give It To You,” which features rapper J. Cole and has a 90′s Mary J. Blige Hip-Hop Soul vibe to it. The meaning of song is clearly explained in the chorus: “Cause I only want to give it to you, and I want you more than a new pair of shoes” — which, from the perspective of girls who love shoes, means a lot. Overall, the track is very crafty in terms of lyrics with lines such as “You’re so classic I want you more than my adidas.” J. Cole raps a solid verse, but Varner’s style and verses in are so engaging that his verse is easily forgotten.
Varner’s debut single is the only song of the album with a featured artist on it, focusing on Varner as an emerging, individual artist rather than one who is simply aligned with some big names.
Her second single “Refill” is the next track, and it features a country violin playing throughout, complemented extremely well by a cool and gentle hip-hop drum. “Refill” is distinct amongst the songs out in the mainstream world today and, in my opinion, is destined to be a classic.
The raunchy “Soundproof Room” starts off with a beat that makes you feel you are listening to the ’60s R&B classic from The Supremes, then gradually goes into a militant, uptempo drum beat in the chorus.
Switching away from chart-friendly R&B songs, Varner begins to get more serious at point and the mood of the album gets more pessimistic and mellow. This starts off with “I Don’t Care,” in which Varner shows off her vocal versatility by toning down her power, choosing to soothingly caress the ears and complement the mood. She sings in a similar tone on “Not Enough,” a stripped-down acoustic guitar track about her inability to go up to a guy she fancies to tell him how she feels.
The last of Perfectly Imperfect‘s downtempo songs is “Leaf,” one of the weaker offerings representing the album’s imperfect side. The song lacks spark and nearly made me fall asleep; however, this was avoided by the entrance of Varner’s more uplifting commercial pop track “Oh What A Night,” a cliché record about going out and getting wasted. This fun-loving song has the potential to open Varner up to a wider variety of fans and is a track that will get people dancing.
Flirting with synths, Varner and her team decide to get experimental on the T-Minus-type song “Stop The Clock.” The track is all about Varner wasting her time with a man who has brought negativity in her life and finally deciding it’s time to stop the clock and get off to a fresh start.
“Welcome Home” is a complete contrast with a more positive outlook, with Varner describing her ideal husband and family life. The organic and simple production provides the track’s much-needed sincerity. “Damn Good Friends” is another sincere and optimistic track. Both were produced by her father, Jimmy Varner — which is probably the reason Elle truly pours out her soul on them.
Unfortunately, the album ends with “So Fly,” a song that, like “Refill,” featured on her mixtape Conversational Lush. But unlike “Refill,” “So Fly” is not good enough to be on the album and the Varner team should have left it on the mixtape. It does not provide the epic or memorable ending I was expecting, and the song could have been saved with a feature to give it more life.
Overall, the album is really solid for a debut and suggests that Varner has a high ceiling for success in the industry. She has the ability to make her mark in a market currently dominated by Beyonce and Rihanna but that is lacking consistent depth in terms of top-quality artists. Elle Varner has the image and substance that industry big-hitters search for, and with Perfectly Imperfect she has certainly helped her stock gain value.
SoulCulture TV Bonus: Elle Varner talks Perfectly Imperfect, songwriting beginnings, London +More