Now, nobody wanted to like Ellie Goulding’s debut album more than us. People often accuse us essentially warm-hearted and compassionate bleeding hearts over here at NME of ‘building bands up in order to knock them down’. Like we’re playing some sort of unit-shifting Jenga! Can you imagine?
But seriously – it was us that was knocked down when we realized that yes, ‘Starry Eyed’, ‘Wish I Stayed’ and most of all, the radiant ‘Under The Sheets’ were still brilliant, but, er… that was about it.
NME’s Mark Beaumont sympathised with Ellie’s obvious predicament as the expectation-crucified wall-to-wall pick of 2010, but ultimately concluded, “it’s an impressive attempt to drag folk music out of the hayloft and onto the dancefloor and it marks the emergence of a smart, sincere and talented new pop star. But for all the frivolous electro jiggery-pokery there’s not a rough edge in sight; Ellie remains way too conventional and chart-poised to be the new queen of lady-lectro.”
It’s not just us that dealt our verdict with a heavy-heart. Across the board, the disappointment that was ‘Lights’ drew out some of the most listless kickings we’ve seen since we last got a baby horse drunk on gin.
Like Mark, The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis fears Ellie’s proclaimed fusion of folk and pop like someone’s just told him they’re crossbreeding Ebola and the common cold.
“It’s an announcement that could make a strong man wake up in a cold sweat,” he quails.
Disappointment rather than dread sets in, though, when he finds ‘folk’ in this equation is less Fairport Convention and more Dido; as he sagely notes, Ellie’s singersongwriter-with-dainty-beats shtick is hardly groundbreaking fusion of the highest order (anyone remember Jem? Bueller? Bueller?).
“Hers is a kind of Boden catalogue pop,” he concludes wearily. “It’s all well made – you’d have a hard time arguing that Starry Eyed, with its stop-start dynamics and killer chorus, isn’t a high-quality bit of kit. It’s confidently presented by someone with a clear understanding of their market: any sympathy you might have felt towards Goulding as a result of the vast expectations placed on her shoulders evaporates the minute opener Guns And Horses begins.”
No babe in the woods, then, but a chilly-hearted commercial cozener! Not our Ellie! Come on, Alexis, look at those soft brown eyes, that fresh, innocent glow, listen to that fragile trill!
It takes more than that to melt the heart of sometime NME man Priya Elan over at Mojo, who waspishly notes “the biggest surprise about the debut from much-feted 22-year-old Ellie Goulding is how anonymous it is.” For some reason this remind me of the office bonding exercise sketch from The Day Today and the most crushing put-down ever: “You’ve got no sense of humour and you’re always there”.
Kitty Empire at The Observer does find some sympathy for the grisly hype whirlwind Ellie’s got swept up in, remembering the horror of her Brits moment.
“Can she ever have envisioned that her induction to success would have consisted of a few stilted words with Fearne Cotton, all the while flanked by two terrifying ghosts of Christmas-yet-to-come in Ginger Spice and Courtney Love?”
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Indeed. If there’s anything that’ll knock fresh-faced innocence out of you like a mallet to a hamster it’d be five minutes with those fame-ravaged harpies.
Not even professional terrifying pop bastard Simon Price at the Independent On Sunday can find it within himself to deal his usual swingeing death blow, semi-charitably concluding, “The Goulding I want to hear is one who’s hidden herself away for a couple more years and come up with something 20 times as interesting as Lights. But she’s already been rewarded with a Brit, so we’re probably stuck with the Goulding we’ve got.”
David Renshaw over at Drowned In Sound, meanwhile, dreams of whisking poor fragrant Ellie away to another world, one where’ll she be safe.
“Imagine the BBC’s Sound poll does not exist. Imagine the BRITs Critic’s Choice award was never invented and envisage a world where Marina has no Diamonds and Florence has never even seen a Machine. This world stripped of context and heightened expectation is the one in which we should judge Ellie Goulding.”
Oh wait. No he doesn’t.
“However, when an album plays into the hands of those who want to be lazy, this becomes difficult.”
Erk. Where most concur that the songs where Ellie’s dance element is edgiest are her strongest, Renshaw’s of the opinion that Ellie would be better off indulging her Bon Iver and Midlake lovin’ folky heart and staying well away from the nasty synth boys. In a possibly slightly Welshist moment, he concludes “Ellie Goulding is a lost sheep, a girl who should be falling in and out of love whilst learning all she can from people like Feist, Regina Spektor and Joni Mitchell. Instead she is put in uncomfortable looking dresses and made to do dance routines.”
It’s worse than we thought. There we were thinking the Evil Record Label people had just rushed her debut too much, when actually, they’ve made her into some sort of electro-pop slave, forcing her unwilling limbs into Lurex and cackling ‘DANCE, ELLIE, DANCE!’ as money burns in the background and tears run down the poor child’s face as she dreams of beards! If only she had a mind of her own, eh?
It should be noted that not everyone felt let down: ‘Guns And Horses’ seems to have had most listeners rearing before its jumps, but Stephen Trousse in Uncut gets dragged along by equine metaphors , finding it “cantering quite naturally from a spare acoustic verse to an urgent trance-pop chorus.”
“Lights is not always successful…” he concludes…”but there are four or five tracks here that are just superb”.
We’re not sure if five good tracks out of 10 equates to a 4/5 rating in our book, but oh – those puppy eyes again….
Another four stars are charmed from Neil McCormick of The Telegraph, one of the few for whom Ellie’s really hit the mark. “On the evidence of her debut album, it turns out the hype may be justified’ he begins, er, ‘bravely’ shall we say. He’s soon distracted though by “a gushing, breathless rush of heady emotion that might have benefited from at least a dash of restraint and intimacy.”
Yeah, steady on, Els, there’s a serious risk of hospitalizing Telegraph readers if you don’t watch where you’re sticking your breathless rushes.
No fear of putting strain on the dicky tickers of retired army top brass over at Q, where Ellie’s anointed radiance prompts John Aizlewood into such fits of raptured analysis that he’s driven to needlessly splurge litres of ink on phrases like “She may be an odds-on certainty to be the sound of 2010, but so what? Bookmakers tend not to be wrong and Ellie Goulding sounds fantastically, fabulously right”.
So. is no one mean enough to stick the boot into old Ellie? Come on, she’s a big girl, and from what we hear, she spends half her time training in the gym. She can take it. She’d probably have you, pin you to the floor and train that limpid stare on you as they counted you out.
Step up to the chopping-block, Pete Paphides, doughty, merciless Times chief reviewer.
“Starry Eyed and This Love (Will Be Your Downfall) seek to establish some traction in the lives of graduate trainees whose idea of a bad day is braving the London drizzle only to discover that Pret A Manger is out of no-bread falafels.”
“Goulding may feel that her decision to subject those songs to the full course of steroids will have been vindicated. Certainly, without them they would sound like the wet memoirs of a 22-year-old woman who has yet to find a perspective on life that the wider world could possibly care about.”
“Goulding says that she hates being compared with other female solo artists — and you can see why. Next to far superior recent albums by, say, Joanna Newsom, Laura Veirs and Marina & the Diamonds, this sort of craven playlist pandering holds up about as well as a soufflé in a snowstorm.”
Ha! Oh, wait.
You total bastard, Paphides. How could you?