x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Halcyon by Ellie Goulding

The singer-songwriter's second album is an impactful and emotive record, showcasing her new-found artistic maturity.

The singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding says her new album is ultimately a break-up record. Michael Buckner / Getty Images / AFP
The singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding says her new album is ultimately a break-up record. Michael Buckner / Getty Images / AFP

Ellie Goulding
Halcyon
Polydor
****

Three years ago a radical new wave of "girl power" swept Britain. Alternative electro-rockers with extravagant visual flair, such as the likes of Florence and the Machine, La Roux and The Noisettes, made the incumbent chart divas - Adele, Leona Lewis, Cheryl Cole - look awfully staid.

Ellie Goulding initially seemed more suited to the latter camp. A winsome folk-pop singer from England's rural west, she built a solid fanbase with the ballad-laden album Lights then made a wider effect with a cover of the Elton John classic Your Song, even performing it at the royal wedding reception. You can't get much more mainstream than singing for the future monarch.

Since then, Goulding has conquered the US and fallen in with an edgier crowd, notably her unlikely new beau, the controversial Californian producer Skrillex. Their social circle includes "some of the biggest DJs in the world", enthuses the now pink-haired singer.

Her immersion in dance and electronica is evident throughout this sophomore release Halcyon, although Skrillex's studio talents are surprisingly absent. Goulding co-produced much of the record with Jim Eliot from the electropop duo Kish Mauve, and so elaborate are the musical backdrops that Halcyon often sounds like a DJ-led dance project, the vocals almost an afterthought.

This is no bad thing. The 25-year-old is a gifted, distinctive singer, but rather than overindulge in the tremulous vocal gymnastics that sometimes sullied her previous work, here she applies them only when necessary. The remarkable track Only You makes especially novel use of that voice: warping, looping and speeding it up to almost unrecognisable levels. Mariah Carey would never have stood for it.

Another surprising absentee is the UK rapper Tinie Tempah, who appeared on the lead single Hanging On but isn't required for the album version. That track - a cover of a fairly obscure single by the US producer Active Child - is the purest example of the album's title, a yearning plea to a distant love, nicely reminiscent of Massive Attack's more emotive works.

Goulding admits that Halcyon is really a break-up record, written amid the ashes of a previous relationship, and there are intimate, less beat-driven moments. Particularly affecting is the finale, Dead in the Water, a simple but mesmerising cry for help.

Emotionally raw and sonically risky, this second album is a hugely confident musical statement for Goulding - it is the sound of an artist revelling in her newly-matured creative voice. Halcyon days indeed.