Ellie Goulding is being fêted by music industry heavyweights, but Eamon Carr takes a dim view of the Brits award-winner's album
Ellie Goulding lights (Polydor)
Best be careful what I say here. Britain's brightest new pop hope, Ellie Goulding is a fragile flower. Product of a broken home in Herefordshire, she veers towards a glass-half-empty view of things. When Florence Welch (and the Machine) told her that she liked her songs, 23-year-old Ellie rushed to the hospital emergency ward believing she was suffering from a heart attack. Seriously.
Mind you, the lanky red-haired diva isn't the only one bigging-up Miss Ellie. She won the BBC Sound of 2010 poll and was handed the Critics' Choice Award at the annual Brits. So obviously her music isn't complete shite.
"People want not to like me because I've been so hyped up," says Goulding. Perhaps. Or maybe it's because of a crushing feeling that these ten songs are tediously lightweight that a backlash of sorts might have begun.
Still, when the music business machine weighs in so heavily behind a new artist it suggests they've been anointed as potential industry saviours in a time of need.
One possible problem with Lights is that the listener has to work to embrace the songs rather than being swept away by their charm.
The cause of this dilemma can probably be shared out equally between Goulding and her producer Starsmith (his mother knows him as Finlay Dow-Smith).
Ellie brought her drama degree course expertise to a homegrown songwriting ambition and came up with some ditties that struggled to make a major impact when delivered from behind an acoustic guitar. Enter your man Starsmith.
A mate of Frankmusik (aka Vincent Frank) and a similar exponent of this week's voguish retro-elektro- synth-pop sheen, Dow-Smith burnishes Goulding's bedroom broodings until they gleam like ... er ... stardust. I know. It's that annoying!
Infuriatingly, Goulding mixes some intriguing turns of phrase ("Like all the boys before, you left a bloodstain on the floor..." Under The Sheets) with grotesque adolescent doggerel ("Who are we to tell ourselves that we're misunderstood..." This Love [Will Be Your Downfall]).
Hearing many of the musical initiatives that she once pioneered revisited, Bjork might well wonder what she unleashed.
But Goulding is a Brownie's version of Bjork's adult world. And certainly won't frighten any horses.
The Goulding that might have been is best captured on the opening verse of The Writer, an unambiguous folk-rock torch ballad that verges on anthemic, with the singer's voice trilling like a young Maddy Prior embracing a madrigal. "Why don't you be the artist, and make me out of clay? Why don't you be the writer and decide the words I say...".
Elsewhere, Starsmith opts for gimmicky hooks, silly voice effects and enough "oh-oh-ohs" to qualify as a stutterer's convention.
Goulding's tremulous little sparrow vocal has a curious little girl lost appeal. But not when drowned in Vocoder overload and surrounded by competing synthesizer bleeps and clunking Nik Kershaw stellar syndrums as on Your Biggest Mistake.
Lights is a mixed bag of glitterball all-sorts. I'll Hold My Breath glides by like an anonymous nun. Yet, Salt Skin allows Goulding to deliver a spooky tale that hints at domestic abuse by cocooning her voice with a suitably icy soundscape and needle-sharp melody lines.
If there's depth to this album you're going to dive deep to find it. But there are enough promising signs to suggest that, if she can rein in her producer's excesses, Miss Goulding has a future. HHIII