Emeli Sandé Sounds Radiant on ‘Long Live the Angels’
Eclectic pop singer/songwriter Emeli Sandé brings the heat on her incredible sophomore album, Long Live the Angels.
After a four-year hiatus, 29-year old British singer/songwriter Emeli Sandé returns with her sophomore album, Long Live the Angels. Sandé built buzz with three excellent promo singles, the initial buzz was built with flawless promo single “Hurts.” She followed up the intriguing “Garden,” assisted by Jay Electronica and Àine Zion. She sent the anticipation full throttle on “Breathing Underwater.” Beyond early standouts, Long Live the Angels as a whole proves to be a fantastic, magnificently assembled affair.
“Selah” opens Long Live the Angels mysteriously, almost ominously. There is a burgeoning spiritual tilt beyond the Biblical Hebrew term itself. Ultimately, this sets the tone for the album, which is filled with reflection romantically and spiritually.
“Breathing Underwater” proves to be one of the album’s strongest, most inspired moments. It’s filled with lush sounds from the onset, establishing itself as something of an adult contemporary R&B song. Expectedly, the vocals are radiant, yielding a well-rounded performance, filled with nuance and authenticity. Sandé is experiencing and reacting to a range of emotions, most notably the loss of love. By the end, a supporting gospel choir further amplifies the performance, highlighting a most memorable refrain:
“Something like flying / hard to describe it / My God, I’m breathing underwater / something like freedom, freedom / My God, I’m breathing underwater.”
“Happen” opens with Sandé singing in an undertone, something that remains throughout much of the song. Incredibly slow and indulgent, she questions her place without him.
“I’m not really sure what I’m about / but with you I’m sure that I could work it out.”
“Hurts” gives Long Live the Angels more tempo, something necessary after three ballads. In addition to being quicker, “Hurts” is more electrifying, providing more oomph and bite. Notably, there’s a hip-hop sensibility about the melodic lines, as Sandé sheds through the lyrics agilely and assertively. It all comes down to the chorus, which chocked full of power despite the pain:
“Baby, I’m not made of stone, it hurts / loving you the way I do, it hurts / when all that’s left to do is watch it burn / oh baby, I’m not made of stone, it hurts.”
“Give Me Something” strips things back, following the bombastic, heavy-hitting “Hurts.” Initially, Sandé is accompanied by guitar, with drums and the introduction of more instruments occurring gradually. Like “Happen,” she sounds poised to remain subtle vocally. She flips the script, delivering incredibly nuanced, spirited, and thoughtful vocals.
The brief guitar-fueled ballad “Right Now” finds Sandé unwilling to wait for love:
“I’m talking ‘bout right now / who’s gonna love me right now? / I’m talking ‘bout this very second / I need you to love me right now.”
Though brief, it provides further insight into her emotional state, something most will relate to. She follows up with another relatively short song, “Shakes.” Here, she’s willing to do whatever it takes for love. This is apparent from the start as she sings, “If you don’t want a daughter / then I’ll give you a son.” Clearly, Sandé can’t let go of the pain of heartbreak.
Standout “Garden,” featuring Jay Electronica and Àine Zion, arrives timely. Much like “Hurts,” “Garden” gives the album a different look. It features unique production work that is firmly planted in the urban contemporary vein. The pace is slow and grinding, but laden with swagger. Excellent, hard drums buttress the song. Zion handles intro and outro duties, both spoken word. Jay Electronic offers a respectable, enjoyable guest verse. As always, Sandé shines, riding the production like a beast.
“I’d Rather Not” is lushly produced, once more finding Sandé singing in an undertone – most of the time. The sound is more soulfully-driven, leaning towards R&B. Essentially, she’s unwilling to have her heart broken again – it’s not worth it. By the bridge, she projects her full voice, singing:
“See, when it was good it was amazing / but the bad was devastating / we could never seem to find an in-between / and God knows I know you / and nothing came before you / and I don’t have the heart to risk what’s left of me.”
“Lonely” provides another contrasts stylistically, returning to a pop/rock, singer/songwriter vibe. Despite a shift in genres, something familiar is “Lonely” is another ballad, which are predominate throughout Long Live the Angels. Balladry continues on “Sweet Architect,” though in this case, she doesn’t dwell on love but also spiritual guidance from God. That petition is summed up simply as “Build me up, build me up.” The choir sounds fantastic backing Sandé.
“Every Single Little Piece”
Another choir joins Sandé on “Tenderly” – The Serenje Choir. Additionally, her father, Joel Sandé, appears. The results are respectable, with an increase in pace and assertive vocals eliminating predictability. She sounds terrific on passionate, mid-tempo gem “Every Single Little Piece,” singing her face off. Authenticity truly sells “Every Single Little Piece” as she convincingly asserts:
“Oh, every single little piece of me / oh, every tear and every drop I bleed / oh, every prayer and every breath I breathe / oh, every single little piece of me.”
“Highs & Lows” is a rare, up-tempo number. Sandé retains the energy from “Every Single Little Piece,” remaining spirited. Closer “Babe” doesn’t look back to balladry, keeping the tempo moderate. Three more songs – “Kung Fu,” “Somebody,” and “This Much Is True” – grace the deluxe edition of the album.
All said and done, Emeli Sandé shines on Long Live the Angels. She does an exceptional job conveying vulnerability. Arguably, there are too many ballads. There is a silver lining – how well Sandé performs them. Vocally, she never misses a beat. There are plenty of worthwhile moments throughout the album.
Gems: “Breathing Underwater,” “Hurts,” “Garden,” “I’d Rather Not” & “Every Single Little Piece”
Emeli Sandé • Long Live the Angels • Virgin • Release: 11.11.16
Photo Credit: Virgin