What a difference a producer can make. ‘Lights’ is ten singer/songwriter acoustic tracks disfigured and fiddled with by a multitude of collaborators at the mixing desk. The stellar list of Starsmith, Frankmusik, Biffco and Fraser T. Smith all bring their impressive CVs and individual musical agendas to the mix. It’s an interesting exercise that boasts a gleamingly efficient pop end product.
For the first half of the album, Goulding‘s vocals flutter somewhere between the pixified, breathy exhale of Bjork and Laurie Anderson‘s synthesised warble that Imogen Heap borrowed for ‘Hide And Seek’. These vocal colours sound ever so slightly artificial and as the track numbers grow, Goulding often drops out into a far more casual and natural Estuary English that feels far more organic and sincere.
The production is slick if, at times, overbearing and whilst it does add some essential glamour and verve to the presentation there is a sense of an overly obvious hands-on approach by the producers. This is not necessarily a negative point; in interviews Goulding has praised Starsmith for sharing, understanding and realising her initial vision, and with such a fresh, new artist so early in her career it’s no real surprise that such an experienced production team has taken the initiative on her very first album.
The first five tracks on ‘Lights’ are clearly designated single material by their track list real estate, containing catchy, easily likeable choruses and some clever vocal hooks. Opener ‘Guns And Horses’ is a quirky take on the rocked up, girls on top pop reminiscent of Girls Aloud wired up with some ambient synths and choppy cuts. ‘Starry Eyed’ sounds like it was born for a club dance floor with its hurtling rush of a chorus and thumping bass hits. A slightly oriental tinted lead lifts the calmer, more brooding ‘This Love (Will Be You Downfall)’ adding a nice counterpoint to the more traditional chorus and underlying backing work. ‘Under The Sheets’ is perhaps the weakest of the five headliner tracks with its more predictable direction and overreliance on a gimmicky chorus line. The slow burning, sentimental twee nature of ‘The Writer’ rounds out the chart focussed first half of the album, with its piano lead folky verses melting into a velvety pop rock ballad chorus. ‘Light’ definitely covers all the bases when it comes to viable single directions.
Subversive isn’t the word to describe the album’s latter tracks, which while interesting lack any truly new ideas. That hallowed “new ground” can sleep easy at night confident that Ellie Goulding isn’t shovelling through soily siblings and relatives in an attempt to break them in in the name of progress. All you’ll find here is an assimilation attempt to connect a few disparate alt genres with an easier to swallow, popped up format. Hoping to play off the perceived freshness and integrity of the sounds it butchers and pastiches, ‘Lights’ attempts to inject itself with an apparently more respectable, arty backbone. Unfortunately because of this, the album’s end feels a bit paper thin and two dimensional where it could have flourished away from the commercial strain and focus of it’s earlier blockbusters.
‘Lights’ is an album split in half. The first five tracks are highly polished pop nuggets ready to tear up the charts whilst the accompanying, forced feeling “art” second segment feels half baked and insincere. This is an album that will most probably fire Goulding into the orbits of Bats For Lashes and Florence And The Machine purely on the strength of its singles. For Ellie Goulding‘s sake, here’s hoping no one tries to look beyond the pretty cardboard front.
Written by Greg Johnson