Ellie Goulding's second album falls flat
Halcyon, Ellie Goulding’s second album, is not bad. But it isn’t particularly great, either.
Goulding’s debut, Lights, came out in 2010 to critical acclaim and widespread popularity in both the United Kingdom and the U.S. Lights was extremely successful and featured songs such as the titular track “Lights,” “Starry Eyed,” and “Your Song.” Her debut was a little indie and a little electropop, and those two elements blended seamlessly, along with Goulding’s vocals, to create a good collection of songs.
Halcyon tries to mix up that old formula a little bit, and Goulding should be commended for that. Too often, musicians lean on their old successes for fear of trying something new. Goulding moved away from the indie flavor of her first album, and Halcyon is much more deeply rooted in a pop and synthetic sound.
Unfortunately, Goulding’s voice is perhaps better suited to the first genre. Too many wordless vocals clash with electronic upbeat instrumentals, which creates a jarring juxtaposition in several of the album’s songs. “Don’t Say A Word,” the first track of the album, tries just a little too hard to be ethereal and consequently falls short. In the track “Atlantis,” Goulding’s voice is too high and too slow, and “Dead in the Water” is too sparse on the instrumentals. Goulding tries to use the lack of instruments to complement her vocals, but the attempt flops somewhat awkwardly.
This album repeatedly relies too much on her voice, perhaps copying the style of the hugely successful Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine. When Florence + the Machine chooses to fall back on vocals, the technique works, because Welch has an incredibly strong voice. Goulding has an absolutely lovely voice, but it’s not strong enough to carry this particular album, especially because she competes with her own instrumentals at times.
That being said, Halcyon is not all bad. Both “Only You” and “I Need Your Love” have the catchy strangeness that Goulding was going for in the whole album. “Figure 8” blends Goulding’s voice with the electropop accompaniment effectively. She is still a talented artist with a beautiful voice; the songs on her second album just do not showcase those talents as effectively as her first album did. Her songs might also exhibit her talents better if she were to choose more diverse subject matter; most of her songs detail the trials and tribulations of her love life.
The problem in Halcyon is that none of its songs has the same simple beauty as “Lights” or “Starry Eyed.” Part of what made Goulding so popular was the simplicity of her early works: The songs were not complex, but they were alluring. While not all of the songs in her debut album were perfect, they all smoothly maintained that simplicity; none of them sounded overworked. Halcyon, with its heavy use of electronic sound, has somehow lost that simple elegance. It’s worth a listen, but it’s not Lights.