Ellie Goulding makes a surprising amount of bold decisions on her sophomore LP, but not all of them are good and she also has to wade through the considerable wake of the young British female artists that were arguably meant to be her contemporaries. Goulding’s is a career that was somehow mismanaged or just unlucky. Despite some mild crossover hits (and even an appearance on SNL), she never grabbed the toehold in the States that she was predicted to, falling behind people like Florence & The Machine, Adele, Little Boots, and even Jessie J (not to mention her boyfriend Skrillex, whose bro-step influence shows up only once here, surprisingly).
And you can’t help but here the influence of many of those ladies here, especially in the preponderance of tribal drums, which Ms. Welch kind of has on lock these days. The first track “Don’t Say A Word”, in particular is an utter mess of cribbed musical ideas (including some unfortunate The Weeknd flavor), which ends up being pretty much incoherent, sounding more like a 4 minute mega-mix than an actually song. Which is a shame because “My Blood”, the followup, might be my favorite song here. It’s tight, exultant, and shows off the strengths of Goulding’s vocals, as well as the way they’ve evolved over the past 4 years or so. She appears to have been smoking a lot of cigarettes (once again, perhaps with Skrillex), and the newfound huskiness sounds great.
It’s also got a very defined structure, which is basically the litmus test for good songs on this album. Too often however, Goulding equates being unique or different with these misguided jazzy inflections, where either she or the track jump off rhythm, off idea, teetering on an improvisational sound which I think fatally misunderstands this type of music. It saps the hard won energy out of several tracks, so instead of losing yourself on the dancefloor you’re stuck trying to find your place in the song again. Still, there’s enough promising material here for me to say that Ellie Goulding could still make a really good dance record someday. Not today though.