Monday, 1 March 2010

Ellie Goulding - Lights

To review a copy of Lights by Ellie Goulding and not mention the BBC Sound of 2010 list is almost an impossibility, particularly if the reviewer themselves voted for Ms Goulding on said list. We just did and we did, if we didn’t it would be a case of the elephant in the room. Now we’re done, so let’s continue.

We first wrote of the promise of Ellie Goulding (here) in February 2009 and have watched with interest the growing blog / media buzz. Having discussed the path she was following (here), we attempted to add a little caution to the buzz, fully aware that the expectation and hype could lead to a backlash. Some of this apparent backlash could be conceived as occurring right now. David Renshaw of the excellent It’s Getting Boring by the Sea blog writing for Drowned in Sound noted in his review of Lights the 'gentle, considered voice,' which Goulding has, but concluded that the album was a 'hollow listen.' Alexis Petridis of The Guardian called it 'quite normal' and gave it two stars out of five. Yet is this really a backlash or simply two writers who have been asked to write a review of Lights, who haven’t particularly expressed an opinion on Goulding before? Probably the later. In which case this isn’t a backlash by individuals changing their minds, but collectively if there are enough of such reviews it could give the impression of a backlash by the media.

Only those with the most steadfast of views would agree that they had never changed their mind on a piece of music before. At the beginning of 2009 there were a number negative reviews of Lady Ga Ga but by the end of the year the same reviewers were suggesting that Ga Ga was the best female pop star since Madonna in her heyday. There’s nothing wrong with contradictions now and then. It happens. Life’s not perfect. So if a blog or journalist who has up to this point celebrated Ellie Goulding changes their mind, it doesn’t make them a two-faced evil media hack, bitter that Goulding has achieved success. The overused expression and idea that blogs and the media ‘build them up to knock them down’ doesn’t always hold true. Sometimes people just change their mind, or see, hear and feel things in a different way. And so far we have celebrated Goulding, but with that hint of caution.

By now, you probably know where this review is heading. Time for us to shamefacedly admit we were very wrong and whilst we’re doing so, to go for the jugular and snarl that Lights is a stinker. Time to disparagingly dismiss Ellie Goulding and her so called album, as others have, as being rather bland and lacking soul.

Right stop right there.

Start again. Don't assume we're taking that route.

Lights may not be a futuristic or ground breaking vision. It won’t feature on any best of decade lists in 2019. After all it is quite simply a highly mainstream pop record. However it is an accomplished piece of work full of melodic tunes that brim with passionate lyrics and emotion. Goulding has a wonderful voice - her high tones fluttering, soothing and intimate one moment then softly rasping and fervent the next. If the songs on Lights had been laid over dense guitar work or dirty bass lines we suspect that many more critics would salivating like rapid dogs over it. But instead Ellie Goulding has combined highly effective sincere acoustic composition with the buffed up electronic production of Starsmith to create something modern and magical. Simply put, this is good pop music. From the pianos and twirling synths of The Writer, a beautiful populist ballad which started out as just a vocal and acoustic guitar demo, to the big eighties drums, brutish bass and pulsing sways of synths on Under The Sheets, every track is a polished gem.

Lights has and will divide critics, yet we suspect that the mainstream public will find much pleasure out of it. Grizzly Bear, Radiohead or even Joanna Newsom this is not, but if you’re receptive to a broader horizon of music than just what is seen to be serious, have supposed soul and of cool earnest intent, you will recognise that Goulding has produced a skilful and highly enjoyable contemporary pop album.



Anonymous said...

Phew you almost had me with that intro you sneaker. I'm buying this when its out tomorrow. Looking forward to it.

fadedglamourblog said...

Haven't heard the album and not a massive fan of The Goulding but I did raise an eyebrow when you mentioned this: "It won’t feature on any best of decade lists in 2020. After all it is quite simply a highly mainstream pop record."

One of my favourite albums of the last decade was 'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix', which I'd argue is a mainstream pop album. Perhaps not to the extent that Ellie Goulding's album may be but I don't think "pop" should seen as a dirty word or used as an excuse.

- saamFG

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Couldn't agree more Sam. The reason I say this however is that history seems to indicate that mainstream pop doesn't do very well in end of decade lists. Contemporary pop seems to have less longevity for some reason and I am sure that this will be the same with this album. But right now I'm enjoying it. Also although it is a very good modern pop record, it's not THAT good. I guess if I gave scores I would have given it 7.5 or 8 out of 10. Oh and actually have just realised that 'end of decade lists' would actually be 2019 - so am just going to make a slight change to the text. Woops.

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

And Saam apologies for the incorrect spelling of your name. Not a good day on the errors front !

musicmeister said...

Nice review, you really nailed the pop-controverse. Sure this is a pop-album and to that extend it works good for me. I've been listening to the album for a couple of days and I agree with your analysis. Although I would more likely give it a solid 7 then an 8. But I'm forseeing more singles comming from this album to get in the charts, starting with 'This Love Can Be Your Downfall'?

Anonymous said...

Bit of a latecomer to Ellie Goulding - only just picked up on Starry Eyed and have just bought Lights today. I love the crisp production and her voice is cute. May take a few more listens to get to fully get to grips with it, but on first listen it certainly has promise. Hope she does really well with it. The Ross Chimes mix of Starry Eyed is awesome as well.

Going to read your previous posts on Ellie Goulding now and play catch up !

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Thanks Musicmeister and Anon. Glad you are both enjoying Lights.

This post has had a significant number of hits today, and I'm actually suprised that I haven't received any negative comments - I thought (perhaps wrongly) that there would be more negativity towards Lights for being so pop. Even Saam from Faded Glamour above, whilst not liking Ellie, is pretty positive in his view that mainstream pop can on occasion be great and shouldn't be discounted just because it is pop.

Anyone out there want to argue differently ?

Or argue that whilst Ellie Goulding is mainstream pop she's not that great after all ?

I hoped someone would give a different perspective, but for now we're all being pretty positive round these parts....

Kim_NokiaMusic said...

Before reading this post I was in no way bothered by Miss Goulding, now however I'm a little intrigued - so well done you!

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Cheers Kim.

Hope your intrigue leads to further investigation of Ellie Goulding.

Phil said...

I think that the reason why you've not received more negative comments is because you are pretty much spot on.

In short, yeah, it's a decent pop album, but the trouble with investing in a very precise and unvaried (perhaps gimmicky) style is that, in effect, you end up with 10 songs, 3 of which are very good, and the other 7 won't be given the time of day. "This Love" is going to destroy this year in commercial terms, "Wish I Stayed" has similar potential, and we always knew that "Starry Eyed" and "Under The Sheets" were decent pop songs, but.... beyond that?

I wouldn't call it a backlash... In actual fact, all anyone really predicted was that Ms Goulding has a lot of talent. And she does, you'd be a fool to argue against that, however the emphasis here is clearly on commercial success over a full realisation of potential, and for that reason, "Lights" is bound to be forgotten. The debut album that never happened.

(Guess I can just copy and paste that and use it as my review in a few days ;) strange that it takes me 2 minutes in a comments section but half an hour when I know I'm publishing it. )

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

:) nice words Phil. Whilst I think there are more than 3 good songs on the album, your post raises an interesting point. Yes Ellie Goulding is talented, but possibly (if the pressures of the industry don't get to her) this is just the start. Maybe albums 2, 3, and 4 will show her developing. Personally as much as I am liking Lights right now, I'd love to imagine that for album number 2 she took her songwriting skills and voice and took them on new musical directions, maybe away from a mainstream sound, but one that still engaged. Sometimes we expect too much of our debut albums these days. For example I liked Radioheads debut more than many (and I use Radiohead as an example as I named them in the post) but there are not many that would argue that it is their defining work.

And funny you mention the length of time it takes to write / publish something. This post was originally written last week and was going to be three times as long, and took an age (well an age for me I'm pretty quick at bashing these things out I think...I do have a life to lead outside of the blogging world you see) to write. Then I re-read it a few hours before it was due to go up and realised it made no sense whatsoever ( I got tied in knots with the whole backlash piece which was so confusing I can't explain it - it was so complex) so I deleted it all and rewrote it in a simple 'not trying to be a clever so and so' way in about 15 minutes. It may not be so Pitchfork / look at me I have a Thesaurus, but I actually think it communicates my idea of the album with greater clarity and was more fun to write.

So yes copy and paste your words there. They sound good to me.

daft said...

Spot On Indeed. Its time someone wrote it like that.

Iv'e read a lot of british critique about this album in the last couple o days. let me give you the "outsider" perspective as i see it. from outside europe/us.

I found out bout ellie as "under the sheets" was simply on Mtv, and caught my ear - i was hooked on the voice-synth-drums immediately and obsessively.

however i remember texting one friend about "kate bush and britney spears making a child together", and another friend about "all saints are back".
what i mean to say is that even tho i felt it's a wicked song, since i knew nothing about it, + saw it on mtv - it felt perfectly commercial just as well as beautiful.

what i see now, reading the critic hype & the guardian etc reviews, i comprehend the british thought they were in for a bjork were in fact they were in for an angie hart (frente) tops.
(in a good way:) )

In that way they did prepare her for unjust backlash - as in interviews she stated she is pop - why are they judging her with a magnificent alien/kate bush/bjork scale? and doing it with very little mercy.
(woteva...she will be a millionaire and they will not)

it could be of course management branding mistakes in her camp, maybe you or god knows...

i think actually that guns and horses and salt skin are both exquisite unique tracks - indeed some other trx are childish if not kitsch. and i really does hope she refines her unique blend. or we'll just be sitting in 2020 with an awesome greatest hits collection , instead of a couple of amazing albums.

this must be the longest comment i ever wrote on
this "internet" thing. the girl is lovable what can i say.

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Thanks daft glad to have you on board with this little thread :)

I guess the Bjork references (which I may have even used myself in previous blogs about Ellie) would have been due to the tone of her voice and there are plenty of synthetic beats in her music.

Ellie has always been pretty clear in interviews as you say that she wanted to be pop. Some reviewers seem to have a problem with that. Others have focussed on what they perceive as her blandness. Ultimately the public will make their own decisions as they hear her songs.

It will be interesting to see how Lights is perceived by critics in other countries.

Thanks for your long comment it is much appreciated :)

daft said...

pleasure! :)

i actually read back in your blog now about how it was released through the ultra cool neon gold label etc. Insightful.

Seems like the backlash was indeed partly the fault of the crew themselves and over PRing. and well i admit that hearing the black and gold cover myself on youtube made me think as well that i am onto a crazy off-pop rare gem. obsession set in - and here we are..:)

as for other critics - perhaps i will watch & tell from the middle east, even tho i'm not even sure if she's released here officially.

i'll just conclude my side by saying - i think lights is a one star alternative indie album and 5+ out of 5 stars pop album. in mainstream pop it simply has a couple of the best pop tunes i've heard in years. and i'm going to force it on my 12 year old cousin instead of the miley cyrus shite she is on to right now. cheers brits :)

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Glad to be of service. Hope you come back and visit again. (Although it's not all pop here.... BMWaves may not be fully eclectic, but we do jump around genres a bit, from pop to indie to folk to whatever catches our ears really)

daft said...

on your twitter tale already :)

Anonymous said...

Hi I'm the anon at the top of the thread.

I have Lights now.

It's great your review is right - really good emotional pop.


Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Thanks Anon. Don't thank me. Thank all the people who helped make and sell the album.

James said...

A lot of reviews have had it in for Ellie but this review is very accurate thank you Breaking More Waves for despite the sound of 2010 and hype you have listened with open ears