Review Summary: Could the “Sound of 2010” be a combination of nu-folk and electro-pop?
Attempting to predict the future of a newcomer can be fun. Which sporting rookie will score the most points? Whose first acting performance will be the best? And, of course, who will be the artist whose debut album will have the greatest impact on the music industry. The latter is the toughest to predict, since the ever-evolving tastes of music pundits seem to be changing at a rapid pace. Many a publication still attempt such predictions on an annual basis, and arguably the most renowned of these is the U.K based BBC ‘Sound of the Year’ poll, which takes into account the opinion of more than 100 critics and industry insiders.
With past winners such as 50 Cent, Keane, Mika and Little Boots, it is arguable that winning such a poll could place too many expectations on a young musician, with (uninvolved) critics more likely to nit-pick and rate down the resultant winner’s debut. Yet, it seems easier to ignore such anticipation when it comes to Ellie Goulding, the winner of the “Sound of 2010” poll. At 23 years of age and nowhere near as extroverted as many of her pop music peers, there is a charm and innocence to Goulding which is difficult to dislike. Even going on to win the “Critic’s Choice” award at the BRITS can be put to the side for the time being.
In fact, if there is anything that builds up expectations concerning Goulding’s debut LP ‘Lights’, it is the fantastic opener ‘Guns and Horses’. Beginning with acoustic guitar, xylophone and a simple beat, Goulding’s voice is at its very best here; sounding both sweet and sincere. Synths and hand-claps join the fray later to finish off this clear highlight fantastically. It really is the perfect example of what the singer-songwriter is aiming for; as seamless a combination of nu-folk and electro-pop as practically possible.
As ‘Lights’ progresses, the synths and four-to-the-floor beats provided by producer Starsmith play a larger role in proceedings. Varying degrees of success are achieved, but it is a testament to Goulding that the strike rate is ultimately above-average. Lead single ‘Under the Sheets’ is a pounding clubber that somehow works, ‘Your Biggest Mistake’ is pure catchy pop, while both piano-driven ballad ‘The Writer’ and the ethereal melodies of closer ‘Salt Skin’ add an interesting and slightly quirky element which benefits the album as a whole. All the while, Goulding’s lyrics are efficient and genuine, without ever being ground-breaking.
Goulding has claimed that all of these songs were first written on guitar and, on the aforementioned highlights, you can tell. However, a couple of tracks cross the line, becoming too glossy and allowing the electro element to take over. This tends to over-power her individuality, almost resulting in Goulding becoming just another pop star, without the X-factor which is required to stand out in the now bevy of established electro-pop acts. Elsewhere, the production could also have benefited from more Florence-like dramatic build-ups, just to give some songs that finishing touch.
Co-writing every song on ‘Lights’, Ellie Goulding is clearly a talented singer-songwriter with an abundance of potential. Furthermore, she has ambition… An ambition which results in some inconsistencies that should only be expected from such a young talent releasing her debut LP. Aspiring to find a middle ground between her folk background and the burgeoning success of electro-pop is an enterprising objective, but it is one which Goulding predominantly succeeds in through her genuine sincerity. Is ‘Lights’ the sound of 2010? Probably not, but it could well be the forerunner for another artist to capitalize on such an industrious blueprint. Otherwise, we can all look forward to album #2.
Recommended Tracks: Guns and Horses, Salt Skin, The Writer & Your Biggest Mistake.