Review: Ellie Goulding – Halcyon

Twice this year we went into an album assuming we were going to hate it, and finding ourselves delightfully surprised. Dragonette’s utter winner of an album was one, this is the other (it should be noted, far less infrequent is the enormous hope and excitement for an album that turned out to be dreck, sadly).

We quite enjoyed Goulding’s debut, and in fact have been following her since well before even that album came out, so why the trepidation with this album? Chalk it up to the popularity syndrome. When Goulding earned her much-slogged-for success on the Billboard charts with “Lights”, she has felt very much like the latest flavour of the month (ironic, as we first wrote about her as a “Softsynth Flavour of the Week” some time ago…). She was starting to be compared with the likes of Adele vis-a-vis her future inevitable chart longevity, and that rarely bodes well for an artist whose sense of quirk is such a defining characteristic.

So imagine our delighted surprise when we first gave a trepidatious listen to Halcyon. Not only has she not sacrificed what makes her unique, she’s doubled down and leaned into the curve. Even more electronic than Lights, this album combines smart songwriting with a huge, bombastic swell that suits her lamb-like voice perfectly. And irony on top of irony, she does do her own Adele impression on terrific stomper, “Only You” but makes the song all her own. She’s become a more confident performer and she takes her songs and squeezes the life out of them, bitch-slapping them to the ground until they surrender. She’s managed to broaden her commercial appeal while still maintaining a Kate Bush-esque airy alternative feel, hard to pull off, but pull it off she does.

Sometimes there’s a real divide in the material that gets reviewed here, we pledged early on to discuss both the obscure and the commercial, the alternative and the popular. It’s kind of cool to be able to discuss an artist that still manages to embody elements of different sides of the coin.

The straightforward electronic pop of single “Anything Can Happen” with its stutter-opening, takes more chances than one might think on a lead-off single with clear chart intentions; “Joy” is a gorgeous orchestral track with an empowering, uplifting message of independence; “Explosions” reeks of Kate Bush, but in an entirely appropriate, respectful way that earns admiration rather than scorn; “Atlantis” is a twinkly, soaring song that shows how powerful and strong her voice really is when it’s allowed to wander free a bit. The addition of the Calvin Harris dance collaboration “I Need Your Love” doesn’t do the album any favours, and in fact is a reminder of what this album could have been if this listeners worst trepidation turned out to be valid. But as a whole it’s a surprising, strong, triumphant cross-over success, and more fun than we ever would have imagined…

Watch: Anything Can Happen

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