Album Review: Emeli Sandé – Long Live The Angels

Emeli Sande Long Live The Angels
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Emeli Sandé – Long Live The Angels

I first became aware of Emeli Sandé when my younger sister sang her hit single “Next To Me” at my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary ceremony. I was taken by the power of it, so made it my business to seek out the original artist. Turns out that Sandé was a pretty big deal – beating chart records set by The Beatles and boosting the biggest selling record of 2012. Four years later, Sandé has released her follow up album, Long Live The Angels.

Long Live The Angels is explores Sandé’s identity. Her half-Zambian, half-Scottish heritage, her failed marriage and strained relationships, her aspirations and desires realised since she dropped her medical studies to pursue a music career. Here is someone who reached such great heights with her début album, but lost herself in the process. Long Live The Angels is the story of a powerful singer desperately climbing back up to her former throne.

“Selah” starts the album with a powerful tone. Sandé shows off her gorgeous voice by reducing the instrumentation to a minimum, and instead using the service of a goosebump-inducing choir to add ambiance to her poetic singing. The gospel overtones continue with the uplifting first single “Breathing Underwater” – a euphoric victory cry in ballad form.

I love the production on this album. Everything feels very deliberate. By reducing the amount of instruments in each song, Sandé has more space to let her voice take center stage. Take for example “Sweet Architect”. It’s just piano and vocals, with choral harmonies and organ used to add depth towards the end. But it makes an impact.

In “Happen” we feel Sandé’s despair and loss, until a guitar chimes in – almost squealing – and Sandé answers defiantly. “Hurts” adds urgency with a fast hand-clapped beat and brass section.  Lovely acoustic guitar number “Give Me Something”, however, feels more simple, yet effective.

The album takes a sharp turn half way through, with a more contemporary pop approach. Jay Electronica lays down some rapping for a verse in “Garden”, and the next track “I’d Rather Not” features hip-hop drumming. The two songs don’t fit well within the context of the rest of the album. Compared to the more soulful other songs, these more urban tracks feels forced – with “Garden” in particular clearly manufactured with the intention of becoming a hit. Album closer “Babe” and a few of the bonus tracks come close to straying into this territory as well.

Not to let these urban intrusions derail the album, Sandé saves one of the best tracks for later – the feel good family affair “Tenderly” – a nod to her Zambian heritage. From here on in the mood feels lighter and more carefree. Using her voice to convey emotion and gravitas works, but injecting fun energy into tracks like “Highs and Lows” is simply more enjoyable.

Long Live The Angels feels emotionally raw, covering the entire spectrum from desperation to elation. Sandé uses the album as her phoenix fire, emerging from heartbreak and loss to rise stronger than before. The production is stunning, but not nearly as impressive as her voice.

Simple, effective, and emotional: Long Live The Angels is a defiant statement from a talented singer claiming back her stake in the music industry

Joseph James

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