Being bestowed with the title of ‘Sound of X Year’ can be a blessing or a curse and is a gauntlet nine out of 10 artists are destined to fail to live up to. With Ellie Goulding’s debut, Lights, the hype machine has unfortunately claimed another victim.
Reinterpreting folk-pop through synths and samples, the Welsh songstress lacks the individuality of her musical peers in a music scene already swamped with quirky female performers, but has come up with enough goods to date to create a buzz. Opening track -Guns and Horses’ establishes Goulding as an assertive force to be reckoned with, while on -This Love (Will Be Your Downfall)’ she sounds much more mature than her years. Vulnerable in places, assured in others, Goulding’s vocals are mostly sweetly honeyed but often pedestrian.
All the same, the girl can pen a quietly impressive pop tune; -I’ll Hold My Breath’ and -Your Biggest Mistake’ are both perfectly formed pop numbers which wear her evident potential on their sleeves. But there just isn’t enough of this on Lights to make it rise above being just -alright’. Whilst there’s no denying the catchiness of tunes like singles -Starry Eyed’ or -Under The Sheets’, there really isn’t any variation from what you’ll already have heard from this performer and as a whole package, Lights smacks of -meh’. If anything, Goulding has the Marmite factor; the ordinariness of her persona in interviews and on record will bore a chunk of music fans to tears but this same girl-next-door appeal will endear her to others.
By the sixth track the effects and echoed lyrics soon start to grate and the balladry of -The Writer’ doesn’t really work. Closing track -Salt Skin’ peters out in the most nondescript fashion and all that’s left is a sense of real potential gone down the drain. Out of the ten tracks, few are memorable once the disc comes to a halt.
Compared to the demos Ellie released online, Lights sounds like it was on the receiving end of a lot of record label money but this has ironed out any real quirks of individuality which made her the bloggers favourite for so long. One can only hope that Goulding is more of a live draw than this album suggests and perhaps she can inject her material with the much needed magic it’s so lacking. It’s not to say that Lights is a bad record because it isn’t. But it is a middle of the road one and, with so much great music doing the rounds and so much potential, the Sound of 2010 simply shouldn’t be a middle of the road sound.