Friday, March 05, 2010
Album Review: Ellie Goulding - Lights (3/5)
Believe me, I want to love Ellie Goulding's debut album Lights. I generally go in for British female pop singers. Lots and lots of them fill my iTunes library. But I'm just not that into her. The album is fine, but not a knockout. I find her voice a bit grating--she reminds me of Cerys Matthews of Catatonia (oh how I do love "The Ballad of Tom Jones").
A few of songs are pretty good, but none of them rise to greatest. They certainly strive for it, produced to full effect with layers of acoustic stringed instruments, synthesizer riffs, and drum programming. But in the end, it isn't clear what kind of pop music identity Goulding is going for (if any), as if trying to straddle a lucrative Middle Earth somewhere between the offbeat lushness of Florence and the Machine and the electro sass of La Roux, but not really delivering on either.
Opening track "Guns and Horses" is one of the better tracks, pretty close to dance pop and awash in cascading synths and hand claps. "Starry Eyed," the album's current hit single is pretty decent too, although it took a long time for me to appreciate it. It's the album's most dance-driven song. "This Love (Will Be Your Downfall)" has a nice bass beat and synth melody. I could see this as a future single. "Under the Sheets" struts along just fine with big bass beats and keyboard blips.
"The Writer" is the big piano ballad, coasting along with some '80s-flavored synth backing. It's a standout track here, even if the obvious metaphors of its lyrics are a bit cheesy. With repeat listens of this album, this was the first track that stood out.
"Every Time You Go" is a quirky mix of snaps, synths, piano and pop beats set to a minor key. It seems pretty forgettable, lacking a good hook to match its musical grandeur. Goulding's vocal is distorted on "Wish I Stayed," which has an interest beat recalling mid '80s Tears for Fears, and some decent insistent piano playing. Melodically, it's pretty interesting, but like many of these songs, lacks a good hook to make it a true pop song. "Your Biggest Mistake," however, does have a decent pop chorus to match its synth pop stylings, complete with '80s-pop strings (think the opening of "Papa Don't Preach").
If the few songs leading up to it hint at pop greatness, but don't quite achieve it, "I'll Hold My Breath" delivers. This has the appealing '80s-style synth melodies, a warm melody and a decent crowning chorus. It's almost Kylie-esque. "Salt Skin" can't help but be a bit of a let down, but it's a nicely moody closer.
I was tempted to slam this album, but I won't go that harsh, as it does have some nice moments. But of all the new albums I've been listening to this week, it's definitely my least favorite. I liked Adele, swooned for Duffy, lobbied hardcore for Little Boots and La Roux, but Ellie's just not as magical to me. Frankly, neither is Marina and the Diamonds, the other new supposed next-best-thing in British pop. Maybe it will grow on me, but I kind of doubt it.
Best: This Love (Will Be Your Downfall), The Writer, I'll Hold My Breath