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.