'Brightest Blue' Review: Ellie Goulding's comeback album sees her reclaim her own story and artistry
Ellie Goulding has returned after five long years with 'Brightest Blue', her fourth studio album and her declaration that she is more than a pop star that dons glittery outfits to sold-out venues performing chart-topping hits. She proves she's a singer/songwriter and all-round powerhouse with a story to tell.
'Brightest Blue' was making waves long before it dropped. The album, which Goulding began crafting in 2018, includes previously released singles 'Close to Me' with Diplo and Swae Lee, 'Flux', 'Sixteen', 'Hate Me' with the late Juice Wrld, 'Worry About Me' in collaboration with Blackbear, 'Power', 'Woman I Am', 'Start', 'Slow Grenade' with Lauv, and Goulding's rendition of Joni Mitchell's song 'River'. Four of the singles have already made their mark with over a million chart sales in Goulding's homeland, UK, while the album itself dropped with over a billion streams already locked in on Spotify. Not to mention, fans were all geared up for the album's drop, with one tweeting, "How extra is too extra @elliegoulding? Album party in full swing with the sister! Also made our very own #BrightestBlue cupcakes and cocktails! Bring on Midnight!" and another shared that the fandom was "already wearing blue."
'Brightest Blue' is, ultimately, the culmination of the last five years for Goulding. It is honest, vulnerable, emotional, almost melancholic. It takes listeners on a journey, from being broken and hurt and disillusioned to healing to finding peace. Lyrically, this is Goulding at her best. But the album also demonstrates her musicality, particularly showing us her ability to craft a story using both sound and words.
Album opener 'Start' begins with crowds cheering, a representation of Goulding's 'past', and leads into the singer explaining her hiatus. As she sings, "Feel like I've been barely living...I'm thinking about a new beginning / It's never too late to start again," she conveys her message loud and clear. This is Ellie Goulding, and she's here to tell her own tale, including all of the highs and lows that go along with that journey. 'Brightest Blue' includes 18 tracks split into two halves: one is a gut-wrenching walk through the lows, with Goulding stating to USA Today that the piano ballad 'Flux' is "the saddest song I've written." The second half, however, has Goulding get playful. It features slightly more upbeat pop tracks, largely comprised of the collaborative songs on this album. And where part one was introspective, part two sees Goulding comment on the external world, tackling everything from the patriarchy and sexuality to the superficiality of modern relationships.
And as the digital album made its way into people's playlists, one fan tweeted, "She has arrived y’all. mother @elliegoulding is here," to which another quipped in response, "Holy is your name @elliegoulding, and #BrightestBlue be praised, amen!" and another fan said, "Here to save 2020." But 'Brightest Blue' is more than just a highly-anticipated record: it is Goulding's reinvention as well as her emancipation as an artiste. As one fan stated, "IT'S BEEN 5 WHOLE YEARS," it does lead one to wonder exactly what caused the singer's hiatus that culminated in her most personal record to date.
Goulding's previous release was the 2015 album 'Delirium', the record that launched her to international fame as a contemporary pop star. The album was, truly, a pop masterpiece: perfectly crafted dancefloor-ready tunes with extremely catchy hooks and seemingly simple melodies that provided listeners earworms that they would continue to listen to for days, months, even years. But as well-received, as that album was, it was slowly destroying Goulding, who very quickly realized the album was a symbol of her conforming to the demands of mainstream pop and not one that was true to who she was. "It just wasn't me," she shared in an interview with USA Today, adding, "That was a time in my life when I felt very vulnerable and didn't trust my own instincts." Speaking to BBC the singer also shared the 'Delirium' experience, which included a two-year-long tour left her drained and unhappy. "I'd just become a robot that was able to walk on stage and perform energetically and wildly," she states, adding, "But actually I was just exhausted, and I don't remember any of it. I wasn't really able to enjoy anything properly."
The mental haze of 'Delirium' forced Goulding to stop everything she was doing and, for the first time in years, find a deeper, more permanent connection with the world around her. And as she slowed thing down, she found love, got married, and baked cakes for charity. And soon, she parted ways with her previous managers, making space in her life to pursue music on her own terms again.
'Brightest Blue' is, at its core, still a pop record. But what Goulding has managed to do this time around is find a way to blend the genre's propensity for grandeur via catchy hooks with much deeper and far more honest songwriting that truly represents who she is. And from that stems an album that stands up as what is sure to be one of the top pop releases of the year.