After her third album Delirium released in 2015, Ellie Goulding decided it was time for a break. And so, the English singer-songwriter moved to New York City and away from the spotlight, which had taken a toll on her mental and emotional health.
On July 17, however, Goulding resurfaced from her five-year hiatus with Brightest Blue. The album, set in two parts, is born from the deeply formative time she had with herself in the city. She is renewed and confident as ever, with each track on the record offering a glimpse of a radiant independence.
Brightest Blue is her ascent from rock bottom, and in an admirably real sense. She touches on the nuances of being in a good place — its shades of vulnerability, tints of breakthrough and everything in between.
The title itself gracefully alludes to the album’s fluid, intricate quality. Individual songs emanate their own meanings, but have titles of cohesive imagery: “How Deep Is Too Deep,” “Wine Drunk” and “Flux,” to name a few. This thematic thread conveys the dynamic complexity of emotion, the very curiosity Goulding has grappled with, leading her to this record.
The album expresses confidence not in an intense, unapologetic way, but with a treasured delicacy. Listeners see pieces of past struggles and what Goulding carries with her still. The first track, “Start,” touches on the challenge of grasping a new beginning despite persistent effort. Her voice shakes with uncertainty in the first verse, softly asking, “Sorry, what was the question?”
The tracks endure, however, as Goulding increasingly crafts strength. She arrives at a mentality in which she alone is the judge of her circumstances — no one else is. Her voice especially wears this boldness in “Worry About Me.”
Brightest Blue is ultimately joyous, with tracks such as “New Heights” and “Brightest Blue” gleaming with self-liberation. The latter, titular song is a heartwarming embodiment of personal triumph, a dazzling buoyancy weaving about its chorus.
“Brightest Blue” is also the last of the album’s first and longer part. The light by which she’s embraced here is made possible through what comes before it. And so, listeners are brought along a mirrored journey. “Everything is heightened now/ It’s looking so much brighter now,” the song opens.
Aside from the album’s consistency of theme and Goulding’s airy, bright voice, the variety of the music is also commendable. There’s a range of mood, numerous styles and dynamic formatting.
“Hate Me” and “Tides,” for example, are more upbeat tracks, along with the synth-laced “How Deep Is Too Deep.” There is also, of course, Goulding’s classic and slower electropop: In “New Heights” and “Brightest Blue,” the music seems to paint her atop a stage, playing the piano and immersed in a ballad of self.
The record has an innovative structure, with its tastefully placed interludes and its division into two sides. The first is composed of more vulnerable songs, while the second, titled EG.0, is half as long and aims to express a more fierce Goulding — an alter ego, if you will.
This partition, however, does not quite deliver. EG.0 lessens the authentic, soaring confidence she so conscientiously built before it. She still exhibits a powerful sense of self, but closes with a tracklist more jaded than confident, namely with the songs “Worry About Me” and “Hate Me.”
EG.0 is also highly collaborative, featuring blackbear, Lauv, Juice Wrld, among others. This is fun, most definitely, but it detracts from her centrality.
Still, if Goulding sought to capture a more hard-hitting version of herself with this second side, and these collaborations and songs are the result of that impulse, all the power to her.
This “Power,” after all, runs throughout the album. The second track, of this very name, clarifies such intention. “No, I’m not chasing paper/ And I’m not faking neither,” Goulding sings.
Many lyrics in Brightest Blue, like this one, are addressed to former lovers, but they can also be seen as addressed to Goulding herself, thereby lending self-empowerment.
And if there’s anything Goulding appears to have learned, it’s that she needs to be true. As for anything short of this, she wants no part in it. This is what makes the album beautifully honorable — in the brightest, bluest sense.
Contact Kathryn Kemp at [email protected].