Release Date: Nov 11, 2016
Record label: Capitol
Emeli Sandé had three U.K. Top Ten hits as a featured artist before she released her 2012 debut album. Our Version of Events, a multi-platinum smash and the source of four additional Top Ten singles, continued the singer and songwriter's escalation. There was a somewhat similar lead-up to proper album number two.
Emeli Sandé prefers monumentalism to subtlety. She’s aware of the size of her voice, how it can decimate foundations and then build them back up, so she scales her tracks skyward to accommodate it. Of all the big-screen belters saturating the female pop scene, she may be the most brazenly neo-operatic. Between her lips, lyrics like “I’ll be your clown” (“Clown”) and “I’ll be your river” (“River”) aren’t just metaphors straining to be taken seriously; she wails them out with the intent to transform herself.
Four years on from the Scottish soul soprano’s breakbeats and gospel debut, and following a divorce from her teenage beau, Sandé’s second album shifts into the more downbeat territory of lovelorn confessionals. The former medical student makes plenty of references to physical discomfort – bones shake and ligaments tear on Selah; by the end of the thunderous Hurts she’s shivering with pain. But a repetitive wash of acoustic guitars and consoling choirs dull the emotion, and Sandé is too polite to go for the jugular.
The mistake Emeli Sandé made on her debut album, Our Version of Events, was to allow any rogue edginess to be eradicated. But becoming synonymous with pop tameness – albeit an impressive, immaculate tameness – didn’t prevent it from becoming the bestselling album of 2012, which puts her under considerable pressure to not stray far on the follow-up. If anything, parts of this album creep even closer to the middle of the road: whisper-to-a-scream ballads such as Happen are interesting only for their vastness.
For the better part of the 2010s, the role of British misery troubadour has been occupied by two people named Adele: Adele Laurie Blue Adkins—the Adele-Adele—and Adele Emily Sandé. Industry-wise, they occupy much the same niche: colossal-voiced balladeers of inoffensive angst and outlier sales. But the two artists are subtly different. The mononymic Adele’s music is rooted in Northern soul and not much else; when she brought popmaker Max Martin in for 25 it was both surprising and, for Max, restrained.
Longing, pain, loneliness and a need to believe pour out of “Long Live the Angels,” the second album by the Scottish singer Emeli Sandé. It’s a clear, accomplished cry from the heart, exorcising its sorrows by declaring them bluntly. “Loving you the way I do — it hurts,” she belts in “Hurts,” the album’s first single and one of its very few up-tempo songs, a burst of post-breakup rage and recrimination propelled by relentless handclaps and cinematic orchestral crescendos.
"Long Live the Angels" is Emeli Sande's follow-up to the top-selling “Our Version of Events." Breakups can be inspiring, as centuries of music have proven. For Emeli Sande, heartbreak provided clarity and courage. In following up a 2012 album, "Our Version of Events," that sold 4 million copies, the Scottish singer might have been content to stick with a formula that worked: a blend of electro and organic pop-soul that felt a little overheated and a tad short on the kind of grit and specificity that can make songs rattle bones.
Of course, at 15 tracks long, there’s no shortage of saccharine X Factor balladry either. On ‘Tenderly’ she’s joined by her father and cousins (credited as the Serenje Choir) for a song that is meant to reflect her Zambian ancestry yet ends up as prosaic gospel-pop. Others, like ‘Lonely’ or ‘Every Single Little Piece’, are pleasant without ever being impactful: music to pass the morning commute or to add a certain mumsy milieu to the Starbucks queue.