After bursting onto the British music scene in 2010 with her single ‘Starry Eyed’, Ellie Goulding produced a steady stream of hits between 2010 and 2015, and in the process became a household name in her home country. Then, she made a decision that few other singers would dare take at the peak of their success – she waited five years to release another album. Now, we finally have that album, ‘Brightest Blue’, which is split into two parts, unequal in length (and quality), and totalling to a play time of nearly one hour.
The first side of this album demonstrates Goulding’s artistic growth. While Goulding still sings straightforwardly, and occasionally indulges the odd cliched metaphor (“I’m turning the page”), she is now capable of creating rich imagery and, revealing raw emotion in a way she wasn’t previously. However, unlike many other artists trying show their ‘authentic’ side, Goulding hasn’t simply released a slow, anodyne, piano-heavy album. In ‘Brightest Blue’, Goulding is just as capable as ever of producing catchy hit singles, but now these singles are more memorable, timeless and packed with meaning.
The album also contains an experimental streak that was missing from Goulding’s previous works. In ‘Burning Blue’, Goulding is unafraid to try new things with her vocals or auto-tune her tracks to give them a distinctly electronic sound. Even when the risks Goulding takes backfire – like in spoken word track ‘Cyan’ – it is still admirable that a singer who has traditionally operated in much safer territory is now venturing far outside of it.
The best part of side A is the final three tracks – ‘Bleach’, ‘Flux’ and ‘Brightest Blue’ (the title track). ‘Bleach’ is the dreamiest track on the album, while ‘Flux’ is my personal favourite track. It is the most affecting song on this album by a mile, with Goulding singing with raw emotion over an understated melody (“Remember me in a simple way, not what I did or said”). While ‘Flux’ only peaked at #97 in the UK, it feels like it could have been a hit if it was released 8 or 9 years ago (at which time Goulding already had multiple hit singles under her belt and, artists like Birdy and Adele were seeing chart success).
If this album ended with side A, it would easily be one of the best new albums of 2020 (at 42 minutes in length, it would contain almost no ‘skips’). Instead Goulding chose to prolong this album by another quarter-of-an-hour with a B side that is in-cohesive, desperate and represents a massive step back for the Brit award-winning artist.
The B side features various collaborations that have been awkwardly added onto the end of this album. The tracks – which feature the likes of Lauv, Swae Lee and the late Juice WRLD – sound completely different to side A, but don’t even sound particularly cohesive when put together. The B side is as experimental as it is lyrically deep (which is to say that it is not much of either). Listening to it is like listening to Goulding unlearn all the lessons she learnt on side A. This is only reinforced on ‘Sixteen’, where Goulding reverts almost entirely back to her old sound. While ‘Side B’ does achieve it’s apparent aim of gaining hundreds-of-millions of streams through collaborations with popular artists, one has to wonder – at what cost? And here, Goulding seems to have decided that compromising what would have otherwise been a truly great album is a cost worth paying.