In an era when most pop stars wax lyrical about the soul-baring honesty of their songwriting, there’s something refreshing about the unusual way Ellie Goulding is talking up ‘Higher Than Heaven’. “It’s the least personal album [I’ve made],” she said recently, “but I think it’s the best album because I got to just explore other things about myself. I just really, really enjoy writing, really enjoy being a singer.”
To which, the most appropriate response is probably ‘fair enough’. Thirteen years after she kickstarted her career by winning the Brits’ Critics’ Choice Award, Goulding knows how to make slick and stylish pop bangers that stick in your head. ‘Miracle’, her trance-flavoured collaboration with Calvin Harris, is currently challenging for the UK Number One spot. Somewhat surprisingly, it doesn’t appear here, even as a bonus track.
None of the five tracks from ‘Higher Than Heaven’ that Goulding has already shared has fared as well on the charts. However, this is less a reflection of their quality, perhaps, than the uphill struggle faced by every female pop artist in her mid-thirties; at this point, the music industry’s inherent sexism and ageism tend to coalesce to become a limiting factor. Certainly, the album’s lead single ‘Easy Lover’, co-written with the brilliant Julia Michaels, is every bit as catchy as past Goulding smashes like 2012’s ‘Anything Can Happen’ and 2015’s ‘On My Mind’.
But whether it yields chart hits or not, Goulding’s fifth album still shimmers with the confidence of a consummate professional. ‘By The End Of The Night’ is the obligatory ‘Blinding Lights’-style ’80s banger and ‘Let It Die’ dips into Dua Lipa‘s nu-disco territory. They’re both bops, but most of ‘Higher Than Heaven’ is an exercise in refining Goulding’s kinetic electropop sound rather than craven trend-chasing. ‘Cure For Love’, ‘Midnight Dreams’ and ‘Like A Saviour’ have the irresistible starburst choruses she has built her career on.
In fact, the only dampener is a few bland lyrics. In 2023, no pop fan needs to hear about a singer being “foolishly in love” or having a heart that “beats like a drum”. Thankfully, Goulding comes up with some ear-snagging lines too, particularly on ‘Let It Die’, an evocative snapshot of a toxic relationship. “I give too much, you suck the life out of me,” she sings. “I fill my cup to drink you into someone else”. Goulding is equally compelling on ‘Waiting For It’ when she sings matter-of-factly: “We can fuck the world away”.
Still, this is a minor blemish rather than a real Achilles heel. ‘Higher Than Heaven’ may not be strictly personal, but it definitely sounds like an album crafted with care, skill and no small amount of flair.
- Release date: April 7, 2023
- Record label: Polydor