After five years, Ellie Goulding has returned with her fourth album Brightest Blue. It’s a set that’s split into two sides. The first is a mostly new collection of songs while the second EG.0 is made up of the singles she’s dropped over the past few years. We’re going to dig into the former.
We start at the beginning with Start. A faint sound of a crowds fades into sombre keys before Goulding comes in singing, “You can’t even begin to understand the magic she had before you killed her.” Her voice sounds spectacular as she gives a powerful performance in the chorus. It’s a song about renewal and there’s something cleansing about the sonics of it all. Particularly when she’s joined by Serpentwithfeet who sounds heavenly on it. There’s never been a Goulding album opener like this.
Straight into the single and it sounds even better coming off the back of Start. In my opinion, this is the strongest single Goulding has released since Delirium. It’s sat with me since it released and that chorus just keeps getting mightier and mightier.
How Deep Is Too Deep
What’s striking so far is how different this set is to Delirium. She’s strayed away from the straight-up pop, going back to a Halcyon-tinged sound. How Deep Is Too Deep particularly sounds like it would be at home on that record. It’s a dark, haunting song with a chorus that shudders with pounding percussion.
This is one of three short interludes on the album. “I’m not locked in my bones, I’ve been changed forever and it makes the love your given change too,” a manipulated voice says.
Love I’m Given
If there’s a hit on this album so far it’s this one. It’s not an obvious pop song but it’s grandiose and it blows you away on first listen. The song lift and lifts to its biggest strength which is the mighty chorus. Goulding is best when she’s not holding back and that’s exactly what she does here. Her voice is let to fly and it’s great. Lyrically, Goulding reassesses what she demands in terms in love. “I’ve been changing the love I’m given,” she sings.
It seems that this album is more conceptual than anything she’s dropped. New Heights is an epiphanie. “All this time I felt I needed you by my side,” she sings before concluding, “Love for myself in this new life.” It’s definitely a necessary addition to the narrative but melodically, it’s the one that has stuck the least so far.
Ode To Myself
Another interlude that carries the same themes as New Heights. “It was always for you,” she sings. You get the feeling she’s about to turn a corner on this record.
Goulding wrote this one with Tobias Jesso Jr. and you can instantly hear the influence of his classic balladry. Woman is the most beautiful sounding record on the album but the message is important. “I faced my fears until I made it hear, now I don’t know where to stand,” she sings, later adding, “I’m done listening to another man’s music.” Lyrically, it’s one of the best things she’s ever written.
Tides is sonically the funnest song on the album. It’s the fastest and it’s packed with glitchy vocal samples. Goulding said she was listening to Jamie xx and The Blaze at the time and was inspired by how sometimes the words meant nothing but you still felt it. Given the title and the opening line, “I got a warning today, we gotta figure it out,” I thought it was a climate change song. Seems not.
Goulding makes a few trips to the liquor store on Brightest Blue and now she’s cracked open a few of those. Her voice is heavily vocoded here as she sings, “You know me so well.” Maybe she’s working her way towards a love song in the tail-end of the record.
Or not. Bleach is about cleansing yourself of someone. The verses here are great with Goulding singing over a mix of acoustic guitar and orchestrals but the chorus is an anti-climax. This and New Heights are the weakest songs on the album so far.
This is the first drop from the Brightest Blue side of the record. It sounded so different to anything else she released around it and now it makes sense given that the other singles have been relegated to side B. Flux is an excellent ballad and it makes more sense in the context of the songs on the album.
The final song on the album is a decadent moment. It kicks off with forceful choirs before she strips it down and builds it back up again. The quick-sung bridge is the hero of this song but there’s also something ethereal about the sprawling chorus. It’s filled with pulsating beats, choirs and falsetto. It’s nearly 5-minutes long but it’s a necessary inclusion, showing us that Goulding has made it to a good place.
This is the least radio-friendly project Goulding has ever made but that seems to be deliberate. Her writing is more vivid and raw than it’s ever been. As a result of that, Brightest Blue is the truest record she’s ever made. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect. At points, it’s indulgent and heavy but she counteracts that with some true highlights like the anthemic Love I’m Given and the tender Woman. Brightest Blue isn’t really here to be picked apart though. It’s best listened to from start-to-finish which is a rare comment about a mainstream pop record these days.