Emeli Sande, in my eyes, might be the best pop has to offer right now. I'll start by saying that as of right now, no, I don't think it surpasses her first record, but it might someday, and it's far from a sophomore slump. In a world of cookie cutter talents, Emeli radiates authenticity, and Long Live The Angels solidifies that. She is a genuine talent who offers her own brand of beauty and strength, and she uses this to inspire, rather than overpower. If you're not listening, it's time to start.
Emeli's debut album, the aforementioned Our Version of Events, was the album I listened to the most in 2012. It may not have been the best thing to come out that year, but it was the album I enjoyed the most (for best album I'd need to go back and check but I'd probably hand that to, surprise surprise, Punch Brothers' Who's Feeling Young Now, or Alt-J's An Awesome Wave). I could put it on anytime, anywhere, and I was instantly in a good mood. This wasn't due to overwhelming happiness in her sound, though it does have its fair share of inspirations; it was because of it's honesty. So often in the pop world, and I've spoken about this a number of times, artists become vessels, pushing someone else's words, someone else's sounds. And I'm not saying that's a bad thing, I love pop, but when I heard Emeli's album it felt like her words, her beliefs, her emotions, I was filled an instant appreciation, and made an instant fan out of me, something that I'd assume happened to just about everyone who listened. So now the question is, what changed when it came to the followup?
Long Lives The Angels is slower. Not much slower, but slower nonetheless. In fact, in reference to typical sequels (or followups), one thing you can almost always count on is that it's scope is bigger, and that rarely means better. This record, while not a step back, isn't necessarily a step forward either. What it is is more subdued. Whether or not simplicity was the goal or if that's just how it worked it I can't say, and it doesn't matter, it's refreshing. It seems like she looked inward for her growth, and lyrically is where you feel the maturity, which is something that can often plague an artist looking to capitalize on their success. But in that maturity came a seriousness that is both good and bad. Like I stated above, her honesty is one of, if not THE best thing about her music, but here that seriousness gave us an album that's two ballads too long.
Another thing that stood out to me most was Long Live The Angels structure. Conventional structure usually sees a record start high, slow down, work it's way back up and then finish with something steady. Here she maintains a solemn atmosphere for almost the entirety of the album, via a barrage of ballads. It's not until the final four songs are we given a little life. So while I enjoyed almost every song, I find myself wanting to listen to it out of order so I can inject a little spark in it, for instance, putting "Tenderly" after "Happen." This is one reason I think I prefer her first record, but since it's a structure based complaint and not a fault with the music itself, I think over time this criticism will cease to exist.
I've been a bit negative haven't I? Over trivial things! Lighten up Spense, there's a ton of good here too! Both "Breathing Underwater" and "Sweet Architect" feature so much heart and soul, and when the choirs come in at the end, you might not even notice how naturally your hands go up in praise. That, in a nutshell, is the effect Emeli can have on you. Her strength and range presents endless opportunities vocally, and her emotion and control makes sure you don't just hear every note, you feel it as well. While first half standouts like the opener "Selah," the short and sweet "Right Now," and lead single "Hurts," the second half of the album shines brighter. The eighth track "Garden" all the way through the finale ("Babe") is borderline perfect, and also features my two favorite songs, "I'd Rather Not" and burst of light "Tenderly."
Her career is still young, and she's paving her own path, which is more than we can say for most, and that in itself is beautiful. Our Version of Events never lost its appeal over the last four years, and I'm feeling like Long Live The Angels will follow in those footsteps. Many times, when it comes to our favorite artists, we always want more, but when it comes to things I truly love, I feel the exact opposite. I want time for it all to sink in, for it to really become part of me. Because it's when you know the album like the back of your hand that it really starts to speak to you, and you feel it's staying power. So to these artists that release records year after year, I say slow down, let life happen, and then put that life in your music. It'll show, trust me, just ask Emeli.