Ellie Goulding, ‘Halcyon’ – Album Review
The first minute of ‘Don’t Say a Word,’ the opening track of ‘Halcyon,’ is a bit jarring, with Ellie Goulding and producer Jim Eliot alluding to the last ten years of great British music with one wink after another.
The track begins with delay-pedal-treated vocal samples, a la Jonny Greenwood rocking the transistor radio in ‘The National Anthem.’ Then Goulding spends a few measures laying down some dubby, aughts-era Kate Bush vocal ambience before dropping the first line (“Well, if you never…”) with nearly the exact same five-syllable melody Adele used to open ‘Rolling In the Deep’ (“There’s a fire…”).
Those winks? As the album goes on, it’s kind of hard to tell if they’re winks or nervous eye twitches.
Goulding, after all, is elbowing for room in a packed venue of British chanteuses that are either promising or already established, and this album stands in the formidable shadow of ‘Devotion,’ Jessie Ware’s audacious, incredible debut. She’s also riding the late-arriving tide of her single ‘Lights,’ which, after two years, is just now succeeding on the charts. It’s a tricky move, releasing a sophomore album while people are paying attention to a track from a debut.
‘Anything Could Happen,’ the debut single from ‘Halcyon,’ has been overshadowed by ‘Lights,’ and that’s a shame. ‘Anything’ is fantastic: a propulsive, dynamic track that draws on New Order synths and, dare I say, a hint of Elton John analog piano percussion.
But it’s the same formula that carries ‘Halycon,’ and throughout the album, Goulding’s viscous and alluring soprano is consistently restrained by boilerplate Brithouse beats. She’s already proved her ability to launch an electro track to another level. Her Calvin Harris pairing ‘I Need Your Love’ is a fine song, and her collaborations with her beau, Skrillex, are even better. And the slithering Sliink X Kiff remix of her cover of the Weeknd’s ‘High For This’ is one of the best dance tracks of the year.
I can’t shake the suspicion that Ellie Goulding is at her best when she crosses the ocean to put herself in Taylor Swift territory. Like her American counterpart, Goulding has an electric aptitude for making hair stand on end when backed by sparse instrumentation. Give a listen to ‘I Know You Care,’ which hits on heartbreak and twists the knife with a simple line straight from a British kitchen-sink drama: “No, I don’t want my hands in your coat.”
But ultimately and as a whole, ‘Halcyon’ is just a bit too timid to ever leave the ground. It’s a dry Miss Murphy’s Chowder stewed with bits and pieces of Goulding’s contemporary influences. That said, just because it’s derivative doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable for a couple of spins.
Just to reiterate, though: ‘Anything Could Happen’ is still the jam. Check out her A+ appearance on ‘Late Night with Jimmy Fallon’ for the full effect.