June 6, 2023
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Life & Culture

Review: New Ellie Goulding record is fun and groovy

Higher Than Heaven

Polydor Records

Ellie Goulding leads listeners through a spacey, disco-influenced musical experience on her fifth studio album, “Higher Than Heaven.”

Goulding’s ’80s influenced dance-pop album is self-described as her “least personal.” Goulding notes how beneficial this fact was for her emotions and ability to connect to her art in an interview with Rolling Stone. The relief and joy that Goulding granted herself by not including many personal details of her life showcases itself within the lighthearted nature of the project. “Higher Than Heaven” could be a hit in nightclubs and makes audiences want to dance.

The album lyrically covers topics of love, lust and heartbreak. The storytelling beats of the album make Goulding’s active and empowered role in these relationships stand out; she is a woman who knows what she wants in a relationship and does not feel guilty in trying to obtain those things. Despite (subtly) featuring an emboldening message about love and feeling in control with one’s romances, the lyrics are often cheesy and generic, making the narrated stories not as effective in drawing emotions from listeners.

The first glance the listener gets into this musical world arises from the track “Midnight Dreams,” an energetic song that sounds extraterrestrial in nature. The synths and deep bass add a mystical and mysterious vibe to the track. “Take me to another dimension / Drive me to the edge of the world,” Goulding sings passionately. The heavy instrumentation on this track is the starting point for the highly successfully produced songs present throughout the project.

“Cure for Love” highlights the funk genre within its groovy production. The bass and synth are the highlights of the piece, urging listeners to the dance floor. Where the production allows the song to shine, the lyrics dull it out. This piece suffers from overused and semi-immature lyrical beats, with the idea of “I don’t need love” being displayed in an almost on-the-nose, stereotypical manner.

Goulding showcases her softer side on “Love Goes On,” with verses sung in a more quiet and mezzo-piano tone. This quieter vocal performance clashes beautifully with the booming vocal performances that Goulding provides on many of her songs. Furthermore, the production is quite atmospheric and even ethereal at some points. The production is present, important and avoids being overwhelming.

“Easy Lover,” which features Big Sean, blends in nicely with the musical atmosphere that has been built by previous tracks but is somewhat forgettable in the long run.

Goulding is a talented, versatile vocalist and no song on “Higher Than Heaven” proves that point more effectively than the title track. “Higher Than Heaven” features impressive falsettos, soaring belts and high notes. Goulding makes these very technical vocal skills sound effortless as she infuses so much emotion into her voice. Goulding sings about how good her lover makes her feel with conviction; Goulding is authentic and unafraid on this track.

Unfortunately, the momentum of this album falters a little bit more than halfway through. Many of the songs are decent — that is it. They don’t bring anything unique or distinct with them. The majority of the tracks prior to the title track are fascinating because of their intoxicating, addictive production and strong vocal performances, with exception for the few tracks in the first half of the album that felt as if they were filler tracks too, like “By The End Of The Night” and “Like a Saviour.”

“Waiting For It” is the weakest track on the album. The production works in tandem with the title of the track, seemingly unable to build into a bold release or mellow into a low-key jam. The track sounds stuck in an awkward, unfinished in-between phase of creation, as if Goulding and the producer were unsure of what they wanted this song to be.

The production throughout the album is cohesive and connects the songs brilliantly while still allowing each song to maintain individuality. The instrumental build of many of the songs are similar: synth, bass and harmonizations. However, it is hard to avoid zoning out at times nevertheless.

“Higher Than Hell” is an enjoyable, playful and flirty project that is nearly impossible to not dance to, but the corny lyricism and few quite noticeably out-of-place tracks prevents the album from shining to its fullest potential.