The early 2010’s saw a new rising of female singer-songwriters, from KT Tunstall, to Gabrielle Aplin, and among those ranks was Ellie Goulding. Her 2010 album Bright Lights fit her comfortably into the acoustic guitar and piano led pop of her contemporaries, but while many remained in that lane, Ellie transitioned rather successfully into electronic and dance music. Collaborations with Calvin Harris and other top producers launched her into further stardom, and now, she has returned with her fifth studio album.
The disco inspired intro Midnight Dreams wastes no time, Ellie’s vocals coming in almost immediately. The sound is indicative of recent pop records, but vocally her voice stands out uniquely. Cure For Love and By The End Of The Night follow a similar pattern, each delving into various aspects of dance and funk production. The latter has a vibe similar to the Weeknd’s Blinding Lights, and adopts the 80’s aesthetic well. Big Sean provides the only major feature on the album, and brings his usual cool and steady performance to the midsection of Easy Lover. It’s a throwback to the mid 2000’s, where rap verses like this were a dim a dozen, and it helps elevate the song.
On the second half of the record, Ellie churns out mid-tempo hit after mid-tempo hit. Waiting For It, Just For You, How Long, and Temptation all pass by with hypnotising, homogenous bass lines, simple chord progressions, and non-stop drum beats. It’s not until the closer Better Man where the sound takes a turn into the unknown. A darker, synth-led sound looms ominously over Ellie’s high vocal line and the thin-sounding keyboard accompaniment, culminating in a dissonant techno-influenced beat. It’s a left-field ending to an album made mostly of radio-friendly, pop-centric tunes, but it proves to be one of the more interesting entries.
Higher Than Heaven is Ellie Goulding’s attempt to match her contemporaries. While the lyrics and melodies are strong, the songs themselves fit snugly into the current trend in popular music, fusing funk and electronic elements into songs that rely heavily on catchy drops and simple, hooky choruses. It is not a bad record, but by no means is it unique.
Writer and Musician, Ryan Bulbeck has been published with a number of online publications, and has worked with a myriad of great artists, both as a performer, and as a producer. His most recent band The 295 are still active, playing shows around the UK.