Review Summary: Ellie Goulding departs from her previous bright pop sound, and spreads her wings into darker, soulful, more artistic territory.
For me, there isn’t a lot to sink your teeth into when it comes to pop music, and not surprisingly so: usually pop music lends itself to simplistic and superficial creations, leaving most pop acts with lots to be desired. It’s hard to create something worthwhile, but still be marketable to the masses, and that’s where I feel Ellie Goulding was a breath of fresh air back in 2010 with her debut, Lights
. Featuring a unique voice along with creative and catchy songs, Ellie Goulding is back once again, but this time, she seems to be taking herself a little bit more seriously. With a new album and a new change of tone, how does Halcyon
stack up with her debut?
With her sophomore album, Halcyon
, Ellie seems to be turning a corner, stepping further away from the sugary-sweet pop music mentality and more into an R&B/Soul-type territory. The biggest difference between Lights
, by far, has to be the song structures: where-as Lights
featured songs with more traditional tight-knit pop structures complete with bona fide, fleshed-out chorus hooks, Halcyon aims to be a little looser, a little bit more artistic, and even a little bit more darker in tone. It seems like Ellie wanted to be more like Adele and less like Britney this time around, and the whole tone of the album certainly comes off more slick and mournful in contrast to the bright, poppy songs found on Lights
But it’s not to say that big hooks are completely gone on Halcyon
: “My Blood” builds sweetly before soaring into a thumping, melodic chorus, “Figure 8” has effortless vocals over a more sinister electronic beat, and lead single “Anything Could Happen” features thick synths accompanying Ellie’s raspy wails. Even Ellie’s bright, striking cover of “Hanging On” is on here, and thankfully it is a version that cuts out Tinie Tempah’s god-awful rap. Certainly, Ellie Goulding hasn’t completely ignored the need for a catchy hook, and there are certainly a great handful of traditionally-minded tracks to go back to.
But the real meat and potatoes of Halcyon
is not in the hooks, but in the overall tone and mood; The album comes off more like a break-up record, something you would listen to while pounding a tub of ice cream while bawling your eyes out. “I Know You Care” succeeds as a gut-wrenching, stripped-down ballad, complete with an off-the-cuff, free-wheeling lyrical structure, as if she’s just trying to recite a story rather than sing us a tune. “Halcyon” bares some heavy, grim tones and lyrics, and the ironically titled “Joy” tries to pull your heartstrings rather than trying to make your toe tap. But the most sinister, morose number is awarded to the album’s closer, which seems to float without any gravitational pull at all, and features Ellie’s terrific voice over some forlorn strings. These types of numbers were completely absent from her debut, but are a welcome addition to her catalogue, as she pulls it off expertly. While the change in tone may be drastic, she still pulls it off, and it is enjoyable all-around.
For Ellie Goulding, Halcyon
is a bold, but confident, and ultimately successful, tweak to her pervious sound. Deeper, thicker and darker, Halcyon
departs from her previous brighter pop sound, and in turn, spreads it’s wings into a different, soulful, more artistic territory. While I don’t think the album quite matches the heights of Lights
, I do believe that the album is easily one of the best pop efforts we’ve seen this year, and certainly one of the the most profound, stylized efforts in the genre as a whole. Rarely can an artist (let alone a pop artist) change their tone to darker fare and still be successful, but it’s great to see that, with Halcyon
, Ellie has done just that.