Familiarity can be a good thing. It’s certainly useful to know what your friends look like. Music, however, is a different kettle of fish, and too much of Goulding’s debut album Lights seems a little too familiar.
This is not all the former folk singer’s fault. ‘Lights’ starts with two tracks that seem to have been about forever, ‘Guns and Horses’ and ‘Starry Eyed’. The former retains that distinctly folky feel, with almost enough production to make the Spice Girls look ‘lo-fi’, whilst the latter is a similarly shaped mesmeric delve into teenage love. Further into the album, ‘Wish I Stayed’ and ‘Salt Skin’ are genuinely good pop songs, with the catchiness and lyrical penetration that had us all listening to that other ‘Elly’ (AKA La Roux) a year or so ago (yes, even those of you who now say you never liked her anyway).
Yet the comparison to Jackson is an unfair one. It is evident on ‘Your Biggest Mistake’ that Goulding seeks to retain a folk influence that betrays her roots as a singer-songwriter. Which makes it all the more perverse that the album’s production is so overdone, at times sickeningly so. Indeed ‘The Writer’ sounds like a Cheryl Cole take on a 1980s power ballad, and rather disturbingly may have Pete Waterman believing he can produce music again. This is however where pop music seems to be right now.
20th century social theorists Horkheimer and Adorno saw capitalism as undermining artistic merit in the pursuit of capital accumulation. Translating this from the language of a pretentious second year sociology student, Lights is evidently an exercise by Goulding (or more accurately Polydor) in making a bob or two. And they will do. Yet the timidity of ‘Lights’ is plain for all to see.