Ellie Goulding’s Brightest Blue underlines the discrepancy between her GP-presence and artistry
Ellie Goulding’s road to her fourth album Brightest Blue wasn’t an easy one. After releasing and touring with her previous record Delirium (2015), she decided to take a step back for a while. When she returned to the studio, the route she took did not seem to be the one her label envisioned for her. Where Goulding was creating an album that exists in the same world as her second album Halcyon (her most accomplished work to date), her label seemed to have pushed for hiphop-infused singles to bring in the streams, with tracks like ‘Hate Me’ with Juice Wrld and ‘Worry About Me’ featuring Blackbear that don’t fit with the sound Goulding was creating. They found a solution however: Goulding gets to release her Brightest Blue with an EP titled EG.0 tagged along, which features the streaming hits of the past two years.
Goulding co-wrote the vast majority of the tunes on Brightest Blue together with Joseph Kearns, who also (co-)produced most of the songs. The album kicks off with the reflective and understated ‘Start’, featuring serpentwithfeet. Over piano, Goulding reflects about times of recovery and having to start over in life while the experimental nature of the track unfolds towards the end when a trippy beat kicks in. The tune sets the tone for a more adventurous journey than the trend chasing trap beats of most of the singles on EG.0.
The British pop star reunites with producer Starsmith, with whom she worked on most of her debut record Lights, on the song How Deep Is Too Deep. This moody mid tempo electronic tune about a partner with commitment issues, is one of the poppiest moments of the records at the same time with a bright and instant chorus. The production is perfection with a heavenly little break down after the first chorus. ‘Love I’m Given’, the track Goulding and her team are pushing as a single in the New Music Friday playlists on Spotify, has an even more explosive chorus on which Goulding shows off some rawer edges to her vocals. It is a powerhouse pop track that doesn’t try to cater to trends, but sounds quintessentially like the Goulding fans know from her previous albums, rather than from the radio hits she had.
The discrepancy between how Goulding is known by the general public for hits like ‘Burn’ and ‘Love Me Like You Do’ and by fans that fell in love with an album like Halcyon, becomes clear through the lack of success for a single like ‘Flux’. In my eyes, this heart-wrenching ballad about trying to accept the end of a relationship and moving on, is a highlight both on this record and in her discography, while the likes of throw away pop tune ‘Sixteen’ and rather faceless ‘Hate Me’ brought in way more streams. Luckily ‘Flux’ fits right in this album that serves the classy self-love anthem ‘New Heights’, takes us back to her early days on the Starsmith produced banger ‘Tides’ and gives us the sensual sounding ‘Bleach’ about wanting to delete an ex from your memory as well as Dua Lipa interpolating bop ‘Power’.
Goulding saves the most hopeful lyrics for last on the epic soaring album closer ‘Brightest Blue’. It is the end of her personal testament on facing dark times and finding her way through those with her head held high. Brigthest Blue is a cohesive, mature record on which Goulding took her chance to experiment and tell her story. Sure, there ain’t not sure fire radio hits on here per se, but it does not seem to be the point of the record either. If she has to release a couple of obvious hits like the ones on EG.0 in order to get to release an album like Brightest Blue, that seems worth the sacrifice. A sacrifice she should not have to make in the first place however.