I’d never heard of British singer-songwriter, Emeli Sandé, until last summer, when I randomly happened upon one of her songs on Spotify. I was instantly captivated by Sandé’s gorgeous vocals, and after listening to her song, Heaven, on repeat for most of the summer, I picked up Sandé’s debut album.
Our Version Of Events (released in 2012) is a R&B/soul album, which is a bit of a mixed bag. I generally don’t enjoy a lot of R&B albums, mainly because I feel like the genre has become so derivative- most of the songs sound the same, and there hasn’t been very much originality in the genre for quite some time. Sandé (whom co-writes and co-produces all of the songs on the album, with a host of other co-writers/producers) does create a few songs that don’t fall in this category, but unfortunately, most of it is a stereotypical R&B album- a couple of upbeat songs and forlorn ballads, most of which aren’t terribly original or interesting.
Lead single, Heaven, starts things off with a flourish of violins and a persistent drum loop. The track is brilliant in the sense that it’s 50% traditional R&B ballad, and 50% house/dance track. The saxophone, strings, and Sandé’s soaring vocals give the song a sentimental feeling, but the busy drums lay down the perfect dance beat. Third single, Next To Me, is also one of the album’s standouts. The piano-heavy soul number is highlighted nicely by Sandé’s vocals (especially during the gospel-inspired chorus), but the lyrics are equally memorable as she sings of a devoted lover (“You won’t find him drinking at the table/Rolling dice and staying out ’til three/You won’t ever find him being unfaithful/You will find him, you’ll find him next to me”). The upbeat sound and vocals go a long way in making the song so enjoyable.
The tempo slows down with beautiful ballad, River. This is the track that made me love Emeli Sandé and kept me coming back to the album. The piano-based melody is lovely, but Sandé’s vocals really steal the show here: her voice is powerful, yet beautifully understated. The great thing about Sandé as a vocalist is that she’s able to pull off runs and hold impressive notes, but she does it all with a restraint that some of her R&B contemporaries (*cough*Beyonce/Christina Aquilera*cough*) still can’t seem to figure out. There is never any sort of vocal showboating here; Sandé’s got an amazing voice, but most amazing of all is that she knows exactly how to use it without ever going over the top.
The rest of the album is boring and predictable. Mid-tempo ballads, My Kind of Love and Where I Sleep both end up being nothing more than substandard R&B, with wholly forgettable melodies. Clown is only worth listening to for Sandé’s vocals; she sings the ballad like a pro, but the song itself isn’t too memorable. Maybe is an ode to the end of a relationship (“Maybe/You could stay a bit longer/I could try a bit harder/We could make this work/But maybe, we should stop pretending/We both know we’re hurting/Maybe it’s time to go”), and though it’s harmless enough, I feel as though I’ve already heard this song on a Destiny’s Child album and wish it had been left there. On the other hand, slow burning ballad, Mountains, has a far more interesting sound than some of the other tracks on the album, but never has the build up or pay off that’s expected from the epic backing music.
Hope is an odd song. Co-written by R&B songstress, Alicia Keys, the track is about overcoming racism (“I really hope Martin can see this/I hope that we still have a dream/I’m hoping that change isn’t hopeless/I’m hoping to start it with me/I just hope I’m not the only one”), and while the inspirational lyrics seem sincere, they’re just far too saccharine and clichéd for me to truly enjoy them. Ignoring the “big meaning” behind the song is actually what saves it; if I tune out the corny lyrics and just listen to the Stevie Wonder-esque melody and Sandé’s pretty vocals, I actually quite enjoy the ballad.
The album ends with Read All About It (Part III). The song is an apparent update to a track Sandé first recorded with British rapper, Professor Green. While I’ve never heard parts 1 or 2, Read All About It (Part III) is another shoulder-shrugger. Sande’s vocals are at top form, but there’s nothing else about the ballad that holds my interest.
For the most part, Our Version Of Events is a forgettable album. Though Emeli Sandé has a great voice, it’s lost amongst the dull songs. Sandé has a few fresh ideas (really, Heaven and Next to Me are terrific songs), so hopefully she’ll continue to explore new sounds and ideas on her next release.
2. My Kind of Love
3. Where I Sleep
6. Daddy (feat. Naughty Boy)
9. Breaking the Law
10. Next to Me
13. Read All About It (Part III)