Unexpected (Michelle Williams album)
|Studio album by Michelle Williams|
|Released||August 12, 2008|
|Michelle Williams chronology|
|Singles from Unexpected|
Unexpected is the third solo studio album by American singer Michelle Williams, released via Columbia Records and Music World Entertainment in North America on October 7, 2008 (see 2008 in music). It is Williams' first full-length dance-influenced commercial pop album, moving away from the gospel style of her previous efforts. Unexpected was Williams' last release through Columbia.
Recording sessions for the album originally began in 2005, with the songs being mostly mid-tempo contemporary R&B and soul songs, however, after playing the "first sketch" of the album to her mother, Williams says she was "challenged" to go back and record songs that "people could dance to" and so in 2007 Williams began working extensively with producer, songwriter and arranger Rico Love to create an entirely new album – which Williams would later sum up simply as "unexpected". Unexpected fuses dance-pop, R&B and electronic music to form a wide selection of up-tempo, beat-driven, club-oriented songs which gradually calm into slower material more R&B in sound and style.
Despite being a critical success, the album debuted and peaked at number forty-two and number eleven on the US Billboard 200 and US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts respectively, selling 14,618 copies in the United States in its first week of release. The album spawned three singles – "We Break the Dawn", which preceded the release of the album, "The Greatest" and "Hello Heartbreak".
With the release of two previous albums, Heart to Yours and Do You Know, Williams had established herself as a promising success in the gospel music industry, topping and dominating the US Billboard Gospel Albums chart in 2002, selling over 200,000 units of her debut album and 78,000 of her second. Williams had also pursued acting, starring in the Broadway musical Aida in 2003 and the 2007 touring production of The Color Purple which earned her an award for "Lead Female Actress" in 2008 at the 18th Annual NAACP Theatre Awards. In addition to this, Williams made her television debut via three episodes on UPN's Half & Half as "Naomi".
In 2005 however, during an interview with MTV about Destiny's Child's #1's album and last single "Stand Up For Love", Beyoncé Knowles said Williams was "working on her third solo album" which "may veer from gospel" to a more "mainstream R&B" sound. Also referenced in the article is Williams' cover of the Al Green classic, "Let's Stay Together" that was not only featured in a Gap commercial but also on the Roll Bounce soundtrack. In 2006, Williams confirmed her change of musical direction and sound explaining, "I know my first two albums were gospel, but I'm going to do some soul music because I love R&B music, so I'm excited about that opportunity" at Clive Davis's annual pre-Grammy party. Williams also expressed great interest in working with Anthony Hamilton, John Legend and Bonnie Raitt, stating that the album would "hopefully" "be out at the end of [the] year [or] early next year".
Production and development
Williams's most successful and lead single from Unexpected
The album's second US single which topped the Billboard Dance charts.
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The "first sketch" of Unexpected is believed to have been made up of primarily contemporary R&B music, partially due to a previously-unreleased song titled "Stay For A Minute" (which is dated to 2006) that Williams released for free online via her Twitter in 2010 and statements made by herself and former-bandmate Beyoncé in 2005 and 2006. However, Williams explained throughout many of the promotional interviews and television appearances for the album, that her mother "challenged" her "to record another album" – something that "people could dance to" – and so Williams started recording songs that drew inspiration from Dance and Electronic music to form another album. While explaining this story (shortly before performing) for Fox Light she heralded Unexpected as being "the best one out of two". Williams discussed during interviews for FuseOnDemand and Fox News, that the album title came about after she was asked by her manager "to sum up" the "album with one word", at which point she replied "unexpected" and thus the album was titled. With two chart-topping contemporary gospel albums to her name, Williams revealed the reason for the dramatic change in sound and genre for Unexpected in an interview with Clayton Perry of Blogcritics in which she cited her "heart" as her sole inspiration for the change she orchestrated – "not because people told [her] or people wanted [her] to" but because she "wanted to". She also discussed that it was during the production of Unexpected that she was introduced to and began experimenting with different "sound effects" and elements of electronic music.
Release and promotion
The album's release date was first announced to be August 12, 2008, but was unexpectedly changed to October 7, 2008 to allow more time to promote the album. Prior to the album's release, Williams performed the album's lead single ("We Break The Dawn") on The Wendy Williams Show, The Early Show and appeared on Good Day LA, TRL and in the UK, Loose Women to promote the song.
- "We Break the Dawn", the album's lead single, was written by Solange Knowles (who also recorded a demo version of the song) and Wayne Wilkins and Andrew Frampton who produced the song. Released on April 15, 2008 in the United States, it peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot Dance Airplay chart, number four on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart and twenty-six on the Global Dance Tracks chart. The song became her first solo release to chart internationally, peaking at number forty-seven on the UK Singles Chart and number thirty-eight on the Hungarian Mahasz Singles Chart. A music video for the song, directed by Phil Griffin, was shot on April 23 in Los Angeles, California, premiering on May 20, 2008. The remix version of the song was produced by DJ Montay and features Flo Rida.
- "The Greatest", (produced by Jim Jonsin) was released as the album's second single (replacing "Stop This Car" – which was originally announced as the second single). The song was released on September 9, 2008, gaining more recognition after being used in the movie Noah's Arc: Jumping The Broom. Despite receiving minor airplay in the US, in September 2008, "The Greatest" was released digitally and debuted at number fifty-four on the US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart before eventually peaking at number one. The music video was shot on September 22 in Los Angeles, California and was directed by Thomas Kloss. The song was listed by Billboard at number thirty-nine on the decade-end (2000–2009) Hot Dance Club Songs chart, just behind "Lose My Breath" which Williams recorded as part of Destiny's Child five years prior.
- "Hello Heartbreak", was set to be released as the album's third single and second UK single (as part of an aborted re-release of the album) but no exact release dates were announced. Produced by Alex Da Kid and Jay Wes, the single received minor airplay in the US despite critical acclaim and in December 2008, "Hello Heartbreak" was released digitally. The song peaked at number eight on the US Billboard Dance Singles Sales chart, and number forty on the Billboard Hot Singles Sales chart.
- Ben Norman of About.com wrote:
"With the release of Unexpected, Williams has welcomed R&B back into her arms with a modern edge, a la Rihanna and Chris Brown, infusing her soulful lyrics with party beats and dance-like synths. Take the lead single, for instance. "We Break the Dawn" is an immensely catchy mid-tempo jam co-written by Williams and ex-Child Beyonce's sister, Solange Knowles. The track re-launched the ebullient singer back into the mainstream, sporting a new, edgy electronica look and sound. "We Break the Dawn" has a certain amount of memorability in the synth riff and the laid-back party lyrics. The song is carefree, and a far cry from the depth of Gospel music. The album features a collection of "moods" including the bouncy tracks "Hello Heartbreak," hilariously including "It's time for the percolator" as the bridge, and "Lucky Girl" once the smooth intro stops. These dance-pop R&B beats are the same light and noncommittal ones you've become accustomed to with artists like, as I said earlier, Rihanna and Chris Brown, along with the party feel of The Pussycat Dolls and other contemporaries. Another mood of Unexpected is the party jam feel exhibited by "Private Party" and "Hungover," the tracks you jam while driving down the road with your windows down. "The Greatest," a fantastic pop ballad, and "Thank U," a melodic song about thanking what held you down so you can appreciate how far you've come, round out the heavier, and slower, moods on the album. Summary; this album fits nicely into a lot of musical niches, making it a good addition to most collections. And you may be humming some of these tracks years down the line. Not my favorite of the year, but not too shabby either."
- Mikael Wood of Billboard wrote:
"The surprise alluded to in the title of Michelle Williams' third solo album is that "Unexpected" finds the former Destiny's Child member moving from gospel to pop. Considering that she can no longer depend on the occasional DC set to keep her name in mainstream circulation, though, it's not hard to believe Williams would choose to make such a transition. Nor is the radio-ready sound of "Unexpected" —with its Stargate and Jim Jonsin productions and a guest appearance by Flo Rida—much of a shock; Williams and her handlers have clearly been listening to recent hits by Rihanna and Ciara. That said, "Unexpected" does boast a handful of shiny electro-R&B gems ("Hello Heartbreak," "We Break the Dawn") that make Williams' journey from church to club as enjoyable as it was inevitable."
- Pete Lewis of Blues & Soul wrote:
"This month finds Michelle Williams literally delivering the 'Unexpected' – her first solo pop/R&B LP, currently pioneered by the electro-club grooves of its melodically-soulful offshoot single 'We Break The Dawn'. Interestingly, many of the album's synth-heavy uptempo cuts (like the stomping 'Hello Heartbreak' and pumping 'Private Party') rely heavily on the kind of Euro-dance-inspired electronica utilised recently by fellow US urbanites like Timbaland and Justin Timberlake."
- Andy Cooper of Cross Rhythms wrote:
"So here is Michelle's third solo album, though the first since the ending of Destiny's Child. After previously showing her gospel colours, she has come full circle back to what Destiny's Child has become well known for: smooth and glossy R&B songs with a dance edge, laced with lyrics about relationships (such as the opener "Hello Heartbreak"), parties ("We Break The Dawn") and teen love (for example, hear the closing song "Too Young For Love"). Though the production quality is undoubtedly extremely high, the lyrical focus will be a big disappointment to anyone looking for some gospel inspiration. The teen girl audience would appear to be the target once again, and much digital trickery has been brought into play to help Michelle sound (and look) younger. It's a great R&B pop record musically, but with songs such as "Lucky Girl" and "Hungover" it's unexpectedly shallow."
- Josette Compton of Entertainment Weekly wrote:
"The once shy former Destiny's Child member, who has previously released two successful gospel albums, ditches her good-girl image for a more seductive, edgier style on her third effort. Unexpected pumps with technodriven tracks like Hello Heartbreak (which is reminiscent of Kylie Minogue) and made-for-radio cuts like the lead off single, We Break the Dawn. Although the album's effervescent club feel tapers off near the end, when the songs grow formulaic, the album's charm could still give Michelle Williams a shot at the charts."
- Robin Carolan of Slant Magazine wrote:
"It's no secret that in music, as in life, success and failure are largely dependent on timing, and so with that in mind it's hard not to feel just a little bad for Michelle Williams, the Johnny-come-lately third member of Destiny's Child, who has always had a hard time establishing herself inside the group, let alone outside it, and who now finds herself releasing a new record at a time when her efforts will likely be eclipsed by her former group members. And so, after a series of delays, Williams's third solo album, Unexpected, arrives on shelves just as people have begun to buzz about Beyoncé's upcoming album, and when honorary DC sister Solange has made an unexpected critical impact with the oddball surrealism of her recent sophomore effort, Sol-Angel and the Hadley Street Dreams. Considering Unexpected is a fairly decent album and by far the least pretentious, unashamedly pop record to be made by a DC member so far, it's all a bit unfortunate. Anyone who has heard the first single, "We Break the Dawn," already knows that Williams, whose solo work to date has been gospel-oriented, has on this occasion stepped outside of the confines of the church and into the dark of the clubs, embracing au courant euro-pop sounds, and it's a move that works well for her. "We Break the Dawn," which boasts a chorus wrapped up in some awesome swirling synth-pop majestics, has done relatively well on the dance charts but deserved to cross over. Meanwhile, ignoring some atrocious lyrical hiccups, "Til' the End of the World" is a moody, frostbitten electro lament, and in the lush balladry of "The Greatest," Williams could find the hit she needs."
In October 2008, Unexpected debuted on the US Billboard 200 albums chart at number forty-two – achieving greater success on Billboard's component charts (as with her previous albums Heart To Yours and Do You Know) where the album peaked at number eleven on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and number forty-two on the Digital Albums chart, with first week sales of 14,618 in the United States. The album failed to chart outside the US despite its lead single ("We Break The Dawn") peaking within the top fifty of the UK Singles Chart. As of April 2013 the album has sold 34,000 copies in the United States.
In January 2009, Williams confirmed in a video blog that she and a production team were putting the finishing touches for a remix version of the album due for release in North America and Asia going on to later state in June 2009 via Twitter that Unexpected would receive a full UK re-release and that "Hello Heartbreak" would be the first single set for release in August 2009. Williams also confirmed in July 2009 that the London division of Sony Music was considering a re-issue of the album which created the opportunity to record some new songs. Furthermore, she revealed that the new remix album was almost complete and puts a hip hop and/or jazz spin on some the original album's tracks. She also said that some of the new remixes could also be released as part of the UK re-issue. However, by the end of 2009, no further confirmation or news concerning the remix album or UK re-release was provided and therefore it is most likely that the ideas were scrapped.
|1.||"Unexpected" (Intro)||Raymond "Shonny B" Hilton||0:44|
|2.||"Hello Heartbreak"||Rico Love, James Scheffer||Jim Jonsin||4:07|
|3.||"We Break the Dawn"||Solange Knowles, Andrew Frampton, Wayne Wilkins||Wayne Wilkins, Andrew Frampton||3:54|
|4.||"Lucky Girl Interlude/Lucky Girl"||Rico Love, Alain Biamby, Joel Augustin||Rico Love, Jackpot, Erron Williams||3:51|
|5.||"The Greatest"||Rico Love, James Scheffer||Jim Jonsin||3:31|
|6.||"Till the End of the World"||Rico Love, John Ho, Vyente Ruffin||Rico Love, Royal XVI||3:10|
|7.||"Private Party"||Rico Love, Dwayne "Dtown" Nesmith||Rico Love, Dwane "Dtown" Nesmith||3:35|
|8.||"Hungover"||Keli Nicole Price, Jazz Nixon||Jazz Nixon||3:31|
|9.||"We Break the Dawn (Part 2)" (featuring Flo Rida)||Solange Knowles, Andrew Frampton, Wayne Wilkins, Tramar Dillard||DJ Montay||4:21|
|10.||"Stop This Car"||Makeba Riddick, Mikkel S. Ericksen, Tor Erik Hermansen||StarGate||3:58|
|11.||"Unexpected"||Rico Love, Andrew Frampton, Wayne Wilkins||Wayne Wilkins, Andrew Frampton||3:37|
|12.||"Thank U"||Jack Kugell, Jason Pennock, Jamie Jones, D'Myreo Mitchell, Treasure Davis||Jack Kugell, James Jones, Jason Pennock, REO||3:45|
|13.||"Too Young for Love"||Le'Che Martin, Rico Love, Earl Hood, Eric Goudy||Rico Love, EHOOD & E2||3:56|
|FYE bonus track|
|14.||"Sick of It"||Carsten Schack, Kenneth Karlin, Martin||Soulshock & Karlin, Towns||3:53|
|US iTunes bonus tracks|
|14.||"Hello Heartbreak" (Matty's Body and Soul Mix)||Rico Love, James Scheffer||8:38|
|15.||"We Break the Dawn" (music video)||Solange Knowles, Andrew Frampton, Wayne Wilkins||Alex da Kid, Jay Wes||3:51|
|UK iTunes bonus tracks|
|15.||"We Break the Dawn" (Karmatronic Radio Remix Edit)||Solange Knowles, Andrew Frampton, Wayne Wilkins||Karmatronic||2:54|
|16.||"Hello Heartbreak" (Matty's Body and Soul Mix)||Rico Love, James Scheffer||8:38|
|17.||"We Break the Dawn" (music video)||Solange Knowles, Andrew Frampton, Wayne Wilkins||Alex da Kid, Jay Wes||3:51|
Credits are taken from the album's liner notes.
Visuals and Imagery
Technical and production
|US Billboard 200||42|
|US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums (Billboard)||11|
|Japan||August 12, 2008||Sony BMG|
|Chile||September 26, 2008|
|United Kingdom||September 29, 2008|
|Poland||September 30, 2008|
|United States||October 7, 2008||Columbia Records|
|Europe||December 5, 2008||Sony BMG|
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