Ellie Goulding - Lights

by Rich Morris Rating:4 Release Date:2010-03-01

Since topping BBC Sound of 2010 at the end of last year, Goulding's name, if not her music, has rarely been out of the UK music press. A couple of weeks ago, she won the Critic's Choice Award at this year's Brits; as clear a signpost as you could possibly ask for that the industry expects Goulding to be very successful in 2010. With all this Next Big Thing excitement, it seems a little redundant to have to write about the actual music she's making, but with the release of debut album Lights we can finally get to grips with what it is Goulding is offering.

Articles on Goulding often mention her supposed melding of folk and electro-pop, and to a degree this is true. There's plenty of acoustic strumming on Lights, and if its punchy synth fanfares your after, look no further than 'This Love (Will Be Your Downfall)', 'Starry Eyed' and a half dozen other tracks. It has to be said, however, that to call Goulding a folk artist is a stretch too far. Lights is every inch a polished pop product. The aforementioned 'Starry Eyed', for example, is as modern and synthetic a pop song as you could hope to hear, featuring cut up vocals on the intro, crisp beats and zinging, hooky synth melodies on the chorus. Elsewhere, as on opening track 'Guns and Horses' and the melodramatic penultimate song 'I'll Hold My Breath', acoustic strumming and finger picking are used as framing devices; something gentle and ethereal to get the listener to the big, dance-orientated chorus. Anyone expecting the fiddly sound of Fairport Convention or the more modern folk of Laura Marling is going to be left wanting.

The folk label makes more sense when you think about the kind of singer-songwriter Goulding is, or at least is being sold as. She's a quiet, slightly shy girl from Herefordshire, fond of protesting her 'normality' in interviews. Her look backs this up: long blonde tresses framing a cherubic, rosy face. In many ways she looks like the ideal female folk singer - pure, uncomplicated, un-sexualised. This purity is also evident in her singing, which throughout the album remains a wispy, girlish warble. At times this makes Goulding sound irritatingly simpering and ineffectual, as on the Frankmusic produced 'Wish I'd Stayed', where her voice, lost in a mulch of indistinct studio sound, is just feeble. The few words you can decipher, about nostalgia for the small town she once yearned to leave behind, make you wish the processed pop noise would just quit and give her some room to deliver something akin to The Smiths' 'Back the Old House' or Morrissey later solo mediation on the same subject 'Late Night Maudlin Street'. Mind you, if lyrics like "It's not what you've lost/ it's what you find" are an indication of Goulding's writing style, perhaps it's best her voice remains submerged in musical gloop.

Elsewhere things work better. Goulding's ingénue persona allows her to take you by surprise with some grown up songwriting. 'This Love (Will Be Your Downfall)', about cheating lovers, is redolent of early-80s synth pop acts like Soft Cell, and Goulding's sorrowful, hand-wringing delivery perfectly matches the disco downer atmosphere. "Who are we to find ourselves in other people's beds?" she sings, and for a moment you catch sight of the kind of singer-songwriter she could be, and hopefully will become. You can't help wondering if she will find the necessary space, both within her overproduced music and her newfound fame, to develop the right way.

Richard Morris

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