From seemingly nowhere, the UK pop market has delivered someone who can write their own songs. Who is this hitherto mythical creature and what’s she doing on my radio?
Been listening Ellie Goulding’s album Bright Lights recently. It’s pleasant enough despite the drum programming being amateurish and the synth programming being rather hackneyed. And the usual over-reliance on compression to thrust a wall of sound from the speakers at the expense of emotion. Thankfully it doesn’t resort to Autotune abuse.
Oddly, however, from track 11 onwards, things pick up a bit (not much, but a bit) and I couldn’t figure out why until I looked at the sleeve notes. The 2nd half of the re-released album has been engineered and mixed by a different team. The blend of the vocals is better, and the programming is tighter; slightly less cheesy overall.
As a slice of pop it’s perfectly harmless, if a tad bland and rather samey. She doesn’t have the greatest voice in the world and her strange pronunciation of some syllables makes her sound like she’s from Eastern Europe instead of native Herefordshire. But, my oh my, her cover of Elton John’s Your Song that rounds off the album is delightful.
Gone are the electro synths, and in steps some fairly standard, if well executed, piano and moody cello, with a tiny bit of timpani towards the end for some bottom end. It’s not original, but it works.
But where this track shines — truly shines — is with the vocal production. Even the problems with Goulding’s slightly ropey singing voice are forgiveable among the sublime and delicate production.
Sure, it helps that the song is brilliant in the first place, but it takes real skill at the mixing desk to take a brilliant song and make it brillianter. They’ve backed off the compression just enough to keep the punch while injecting some welcome dynamics into her performance after the previous 16 tracks of sonic sledgehammering.
It exudes warmth and emotion, even vulnerability, and is a total triumph and treat for the ears. It sounds great on the rubbishy stereo downstairs and utterly stunning on the Absolute Zero nearfields in the studio (they get a lot of flack, but I like them despite the limited bass response). If you ever get a chance to hear it on studio monitor speakers, you owe it to yourself to do so.
I tip my hat to the production team on this track: a well deserved and succulent cherry on an otherwise slightly dehydrated cake.