It would really suck if Ellie Goulding became a one-hit wonder in America. But I can see it happening, you know?
As you may know, her song “Lights” has been a slow-burning hit in this country, and over 18 months after it was recorded, it is finally in the top ten.
And that’s great. That’s as it should be. “Lights” is a fantastic track, with space-age bleeps and whooshes swirling over classic guitar-and-drum rock sounds. I especially like it because the verses and choruses blend together so well. You barely notice the pace is picking up until, whoops, your arms are in the air and you’re slapping the sky every time she sings “calling, calling, calling me home.”
I mean… right? Or is it just me?
But here’s the thing: This song, though awesome, also sounds dreamier and more relaxed than most American pop hits. It makes sense next to “Titanium,” also in the top ten right now, but alongside Rihanna and Katy Perry’s harder edges or Carly Rae Jepsen’s bubbly fun, it’s the quirky cousin from another town.
And when artists break through with such outside-the-box hits, they can struggle to sustain a career. Just think about La Roux or Plain White Ts: Their big songs sounded like nothing else on the radio, and after a brief love affair, America went back to its familiar grooves. It’s possible we’re changing what we want, since Goulding is joining “alternative” artists like fun. and Gotye at the top of the charts, but I’m still concerned.
I want Ellie Goulding to have another hit because the more I listen to her music, the more I realize how impressive it is. For one thing, her dance tracks have sophisticated lyrics (even if her high voice and thick British accent make her hard to understand). If you pay attention while you’re dancing, you get rewarded with images like this, from “Lights:”
Noises — I play within my head.
I touch my own skin and hope that I’m still breathing.
And I think back to when my brother and my sister slept
in an unlocked place. The only time i feel safe.
That’s a striking image of paranoia, isolation, and nostalgia, and it underscores that the chorus—about a lover who shows Ellie things that make her turn to stone—is kind of disturbing. And here were thought we were just jumpin’ at the club!
Even better, Goulding tells her stories with lots of different sounds. Check out “The Writer,” about a woman who wishes she could pretend she loved her man. Instead, she wants him to do the hard work of acting like they’re fine, and she tells him with an alt-rock ballad that’s very Death Cab For Cutie:
Or if you want to split the difference between dance and rock, there’s always “Guns and Horses,” which interrupts a jumping beat with a handclap breakdown.
And if you need to drop it low, keep it real slow, then you can enjoy her acoustic cover of Elton John’s “Your Song.”
See what I mean? Ellie Goulding’s really got something to offer. I hope we give her the chance to keep proving it.
Mark Blankenship tweets as @IAmBlankenship. He was really surprised by how dark “Lights’” lyrics are. It’s called “Lights,” but it’s dark! Boom!