Album: Emeli Sandé Our Version of Events (EMI)
”Melodramatic, über-conventional power ballads that American Idol hopefuls belt out for the winner’s crown over early ‘90’s trip-hop production” would hardly seem like a successful formula for smash-hit status in 2012, but Scottish singer-songwriter Emeli Sandé’s debut album, Our Version of Events attempts just that.
Less a collection of sonic surprises than a bunch of songs that are pop-safe, with references to Rihanna’s Caribbean electro-pop and Alicia Keys piano soul, it’s hard to forgive the blandness and fall head-over-heels for Sandé’s voice, a crystalline soprano tone that she employs with a gospel singer’s conviction. Our Version of Events blatantly aims for universal pop appeal. More than a few of the songs sound somewhat neutered, without much personality and plainly Starbucks Radio–bound.
“Next to Me,” that mighty shout of a first single, really should have served as the template for the rest of the album, but instead there are dreary piano-driven ballads and dated beats-and-strings production: Massive Attack haunts a few tracks (“Heaven,” “Maybe”), and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum” drums make an appearance (‘Lifetime”), with the neck-snapping knock from that famous Little Feat opening drum riff deliberately sampled to appeal to young ears—much like those bizarre, funk-free smooth jazz reinterpretations of classic old school hip-hop songs.
'Next to Me,' that mighty shout of a first single, really should have served as the template for the rest of the album, but instead there are dreary piano-driven ballads and dated beats-and-strings production
The end result crowds out the very best element on the album: Sandé’s gorgeous voice. “Breaking the Law” and “Suitcase” are two standout tracks simply because, when barely adorned by supple guitar, light strings and spare drums, the music moves out of the way and allows an entry point for Sandé’s stunning delivery. But a folk artist she is not, and her label (EMI) is clearly looking to do Coldplay or Adele sales figures. So pleadful pledges of forever love readily define the album’s general theme.
Still, Sandé is a radiant vocalist with more than enough talent and quiet charisma to breathe life into this nearly stale record in a live setting. It’s a gift that could sail the platinum-haired Brit to American stardom one day, in spite of this so-so effort.
Written by Sun Singleton