It’s taken Emeli Sandé almost five years to follow her 5m-selling debut ‘Our Version Of Events’, a length of time that feels apposite both for her sake and ours. ‘Overexposed’ doesn’t begin to do justice to how ubiquitous the Scots-Zambian singer became in the 18 months following that album’s release – for a while it felt as if the BBC, the Brits and her record label were colluding in jamming a feeding tube down the nation’s oesophagus until the pop-soul gruel came oozing out of our tear ducts. For Sandé herself, meanwhile, such sudden, all-pervasive fame came at a high personal cost of its own. In 2014 she went through a painful divorce from her long-term partner after just one year of marriage.
The curiously subdued response to her recent comeback single may indicate a certain weariness on the public’s part for round two, but it’s certainly no fault of the song itself – the defiant, Rihanna-esque ‘Hurts’ is about as far from the ‘granny music’ epithet bestowed on her by Noel Gallagher as it’s possible to get. In fact, at its best – like the libidinous, Jay Electronica-featuring ‘Garden’, or the intimate, Twin Peaksy ambience of ‘Happen’ – ‘Long Live The Angels’ reveals an angrier, edgier Emeli Sandé, with bitter experience in that mellifluous (if overfamiliar) voice.
Of course, at 15 tracks long, there’s no shortage of saccharine X Factor balladry either. On ‘Tenderly’ she’s joined by her father and cousins (credited as the Serenje Choir) for a song that is meant to reflect her Zambian ancestry yet ends up as prosaic gospel-pop. Others, like ‘Lonely’ or ‘Every Single Little Piece’, are pleasant without ever being impactful: music to pass the morning commute or to add a certain mumsy milieu to the Starbucks queue. Sandé clearly has the chops to stand out in the sophisticated cross-platform arms race of modern pop music – the soaring ‘Shakes’ and ‘Sweet Architect’ are proof of that – but you still wish she didn’t fall back so readily on cliché.