On Friday, British pop veteran Ellie Goulding released her first project in almost three years, “Higher than Heaven,” released under Universal Music. This latest project sees Goulding return to form with her dance-inspired synth pop. With punchy and complex synths and bright yet throbbing 808s, “Higher than Heaven” comes blazing into the stratosphere. But 13 years into her career, Goulding’s place in pop is solidified with nothing left for her to prove.
I’m no pop aficionado, but I can recognize a good song when I hear it. Goulding is a highly talented multi-instrumentalist who’s proven her versatility over the last decade. From her debut back in 2010 to the smash hit “Love Me Like You Do,” she’s had her fair share of standout hits. The lead single off this album,“Easy Lover” featuring Big Sean, has been playing nonstop across the airwaves, allowing her to strike gold once more. With powerful vocals and infectious rhythms, the album lives comfortably within the pop sphere, making it perfect for mall music and nightclubs alike.
But the thing about the pop sphere is that oftentimes it can suffer from blandness, with a lot of these songs sounding very similar to each other. On “Cure For Love” the single strike of a piano mimics “Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa and a plethora of other songs. Even the drumbeat of “Easy Lover” suffers from the same monotony that plagued the genre from as far back as 2010 when she first broke onto the scene. It’s no secret to the public that chord structures are standardized within pop, but even here it can feel as flavorless as cold mashed potatoes.
Without a doubt, Goulding is a strong performer and composer who made waves with her ability to carve a path in an overcrowded genre. But carving out a niche doesn’t always equate to quality. Instead, the saving grace of this album is the vocal performance and songwriting. Not quite a mile from cliche, Goulding’s ability to craft catchy choruses is what created her superstar status. In the same way that The Weeknd’s last two projects kept us dancing through the pandemic, the shimmering sounds of “Higher than Heaven” gives us pleasurable synths and dance-worthy rhythms.
Artists like Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran may flirt with the idea of dance music, but never fully commit. This constant oscillation between sounds often causes many pop albums to feel half-assed as artists pick a variety of sounds, instead of focusing on what their strengths are. Here, Goulding wields her experience with synth pop and dance music with ease and uses that as the center of this album. By sticking to her guns, she’s guaranteed herself success, even if it’s not a Grammy contender.
I found myself enjoying “Higher than Heaven” more than I initially thought I would. It can be hard to grade a pop album, considering how the quality varies. Far from phoning it in, Goulding’s approach is a nice welcome in a sea of filler albums made only to push record sales. Far from one of the best, “Higher than Heaven”, proves to be enjoyable, if not a little self-imitating.