Arriving five years after her last album, Brightest Blue is Ellie Goulding at her most fully realised artistry.
It’s hard to believe that this same singer first burst onto the scene with 2010′s Starry Eyed, a shimmering, ethereal piece of electronic folk that cemented her status as one to watch. Hits like Lights and Anything Could Happen followed, and people were quick to pigeonhole Goulding into a box of dreamy electronica. So she went the other way with 2015′s Delirium, proving that she can hold her own in the pop landscape, too.
On this fourth album, Goulding switches up her sound once again. This time, sparse experimental production clears the way for her breathy, raspy vocals. Tracks like the dark How Deep Is Too Deep and the soulful New Heights show a great attention to detail in their craft, making for a layered experience.
Album highlight Love I’m Given is almost begging to be the next single. Like a follow-up to Figure 8 from her 2012 album Halcyon, the song is a battle cry about turning pain into power. “And maybe I’m paying for the things I’ve done / And maybe I’m paying for the ones I’ve hurt / But I’ve been changing the love I’m given / I’m turning the page of my indecision,” she sings.
On first listen, the sombre Woman sounds like a potential miss. Kicking off with little more than a piano and sappy strings, Goulding sings about coming to terms with her womanhood and identity. But then the bridge kicks in and the song morphs into a power ballad of huge proportions.
The bouncy, futuristic Tides features some of the best production on the album, courtesy of Goulding’s frequent collaborator Starsmith. “I wanna stay awake tonight / I wanna go against the tide / I wanna stay with you tonight,” Goulding’s delivery on the chorus is almost delectably deadpan and mechanical.
The album’s three interludes, Cyan, Ode To Myself and Wine Drunk lend Brightest Blue to being seen as a concept album of sorts. Cyan is a spoken word piece about overcoming tribulations with lines like “Sometimes I had to trample with tears in my eyes / Over the things I knew I couldn’t help / Until I was strong enough to carry them with me instead”. Start and the titular Brightest Blue play like an intro and outro for the album respectively, one laying the groundwork for the album’s themes and the other ending things showing you can turn your blues into something brighter.
There is no doubt that Brightest Blue is Goulding’s strongest body of work yet. It’s packed from start to finish with solid yet experimental tracks that do justice both to Goulding’s voice and her songwriting. Ditching the made-for-radio collaborations to the album’s second side in favour of more playful, left-of-field tricks, Brightest Blue is Goulding finally singing her own tune instead of trying to fit into someone else’s.