English singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding became a household name roughly a decade ago. Goulding is a staple in the pop music realm, with smash hits “Lights” and “Love Me Like You Do.” Brightest Blue is the pop star’s latest LP, coming five years after her last project, Delirium. On Brightest Blue, Goulding experiments with moodier, darker production compared to past records, while simultaneously infusing her fundamental pop sound. The record encapsulates the after-effects of heartbreak and feelings of newfound freedom and independence. When it soars, it truly does, but when it dips, it sounds just as any other contrived pop tune on the radio.
Brightest Blue is riddled with highs and lows. While “Start” sets the tone of the record – listeners will recognize that the record sees a sadder, introspective Goulding – it fails to impress production and lyric-wise. On the other hand, the following track, “Power,” is a phenomenal club banger – it may be one of Goulding’s best tracks to date. Featuring contagious, full production, “Power” is an anthemic song centered on the power dynamics of love and sex. “How Deep Is Too Deep” continues on the themes of power and sex as Goulding describes a toxic relationship amidst impressive production. A striking element of the production comes after the first chorus of the track. With catchy verses, this song is another highlight of the album. The title track, “Brightest Blue,” features gospel vocals reminiscent of those featured throughout Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. This style of production marks a step in a different direction for Goulding.
What follows is admirable from a creative standpoint as one can acknowledge the thought Goulding put into the tracks, but it falls short. Brightest Blue fails to be a cohesive project as songs jump from slow and melodic to upbeat and predictable. Ballads “New Heights” and “Woman” are meaningful, but quite forgettable. A powerful ballad on the album is “Flux,” which sees Goulding at her most emotionally vulnerable to date. The album has short interludes featured throughout – one of which is “Wine Drunk” – and while they are lyrically thought-provoking, they feel out of place on the track list. “Overture,” in particular, is an extravagant classical piece serving as the introduction to the B-side of the album. While it may feature impressive production, it has no discernible place on the project. Goulding found herself listening to classical music throughout the album-making process and found it to be a source of inspiration – yet “Overture” does not suit the songs that follow.
The B-side of the album, dubbed EG.0, is laden with guest performers. On “Worry About Me,” Goulding and blackbear sing over a trap beat featuring production reminiscent of French musical group Polo & Pan. While the production is interesting, the song is not a standout pop tune. The same rings true for the mega-hit single “Close To Me,” featuring Swae Lee and Diplo. The tracks are quintessential pop songs but fall short – lacking the uniqueness that makes landmark pop songs truly great. “Hate Me” with the late Juice WRLD is almost unlistenable – the repetitive lyrics and uninspired production fail to entice listeners.
Brightest Blue may pleasantly surprise those who don’t normally frequent Goulding’s music as the opening tracks are promising, but ultimately, the album misses the mark of being a memorable project. Fans of Goulding will surely enjoy it, but lack of a cohesive sound, misplaced interludes, and tired pop production keep the album from being its best.