Free from the expectations and pressures of cultural ubiquity, this consistent pop presence can carry on doing what she’s very good at
There was a time back in 2012 where the world felt a much simpler and more hopeful place. We all know that really that wasn’t the case but still, there was a definite vibe that soon turned in a few more years to almost unrelenting darkness. Obama was about to win a second term. There wasn’t a pandemic. David Bowie and Prince were both still alive and Britain was luxuriating in an Olympics-fuelled glow. Throughout all of this Emeli Sandé could legitimately claim to be the biggest pop star in the country with a cultural ubiquity festival artists could hope to achieve.
Of course that level of success couldn’t last. After burning so brightly, Sandé regressed to become a consistent if benign presence in pop, well respected and admired but no longer near the zeitgeist. Her fourth album Let’s Say For Instance is unlikely to propel her back to those levels, but it’s a record that highlights a gifted songwriter and producer doing what they love and being gently experimental with it.
The album takes in a lot of sonic touchstones in its 16 songs. Glittering ’80s pop on There Isn’t Much, folky tinged electronica on Wait For Me, exuberant glowing radio pop on single Brighter Days and ornate classical sounds on July 25th. It’s obvious that Sandé is an artist adept in many lanes.
Summer has an intriguing, darker hue to it that suggests more experimental pastures, but generally the record is well crafted without too many stone cold standout moments. That’s not to denigrate the quality of these songs, which are indicative of a musician with a great ear and a magpie-like tendency to easily take up different sounds and styles.
In many ways this record is a labour of love for Sandé. No longer playing the pop game like she did on her wildly successful debut Our Version Of Events, she has instead delivered a crafted record steeped in her own vision and her own considered approach to pop. With nothing here to shake the system or disorient the body, instead we have 16 songs to gently reassure and provide pleasing accompaniment to whatever else you have going on in life. No longer vital, but sweetly satisfying nonetheless.
With 16 tracks this feels like an album perfectly designed for the playlist age, and you can take your pick from any number of songs to add to your daily playlist – the sultry disco of Look In Your Eyes would be a good shout, for one – even if as a whole work it could do with paring down. Perhaps that’s the idea. Free from the expectations and pressures of cultural ubiquity, Emeli Sandé can carry on doing what she’s very good at.