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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, March 3, 2024

Ellie Goulding's ‘Higher Than Heaven’ may be her ‘least personal,’ but it still holds up

ellie-goulding
Ellie Goulding is pictured.

Ellie Goulding’s fifth studio album “Higher Than Heaven” (2023) was released on April 7, and she described it as her “least personal” album to date — a bold claim for the artist. Her first album in nearly three years, Goulding came back swinging with this upbeat electronic body of work. Featuring 11 standard tracks and five more on the bonus edition, “Higher Than Heaven” is swift, roughly 52 minutes of ecstasy, longing and ethereality.

What Goulding does well is committing to a sonically consistent album, as she has with many of her previous works, including “Delirium” (2015) and “Brightest Blue” (2020). However, this consistency runs the risk of stagnation. It’s hard to judge “Higher Than Heaven” too critically — Goulding has called it her “least personal” album — as it seems she’s making music more for the fun of it rather than for the depths she could take her audiences to. With infectious choruses on tracks such as “Temptation” and “Cure For Love,” “Higher Than Heaven” is a club hit in the making.

Where Goulding falls off is actually in her consistency. Tracks become indistinguishable from one another throughout the play of the record and only stamp their identity in their repetitive choruses. However, each song redeems itself in the fact that no track has a poor production. They are all on-brand with Goulding’s style while failing to set themselves apart from her early signatures such as “Burn” (2013), “Lights” (2011) and “Love Me Like You Do” (2015).

Working chronologically, the first four songs on the record were some of the strongest: “Midnight Dreams,” “Cure For Love,” “By The End Of The Night” and “Like A Saviour.” In “Midnight Dreams,” her lover is present in her late-night dreams, and she’s pining for him throughout this club banger. Goulding continues that worldbuilding in “Cure For Love.” Her pining persists through “By The End Of The Night,” and each of the first four tracks is gripping in their production, which makes sense considering record producer Koz worked on all four.

Thematically, the album switches over from the initial dreaminess of the first four tracks into “Love Goes On” and “Easy Lover” featuring Big Sean. There’s a tension evident on these tracks as the dream of the first act becomes more of a reality in the following two tracks. Big Sean adds, “Time gone, passed, but all of these feelings hadn’t/ You know that life that we pictured, I still imagine” on “Easy Lover.”

From there, two of the best tracks on the album take center stage: the title track “Higher Than Heaven” and “Let It Die.” The title track encapsulates that ethereal image Goulding attempts to paint with this body of work, and it works well. Thematically and sonically, it is the most developed of all tracks on the album and Goulding’s best decision was making it the album’s title. “Let It Die” is a spectacular follow-up, the perfect antonymic sister for the title track. Goulding notices a switch in her lover and decides that for their love, “It’s time to let it die.” Infectious in its production, “Let It Die” is the magnum opus on this record and stands alone from the rest of the album in terms of quality.

“Waiting For It” is a soft, well-done transition from the climax of the album, but it leads into the weaker of the tracks on the album, “Just For You” and “How Long.” There’s not much these final two tracks on the standard edition add, and they are too generic to be uniquely applicable to the main thematic structure of the album.

For the five bonus tracks — “Temptation,” “Intuition,” “Tastes Like You,” “Better Man” and “All by Myself” — the songs operate as decent Goulding hits but fail to connect in any tangible way to the greater body of the standard album as a whole. “Better Man” would’ve fit well following “Let It Die” on the standard edition, but the other four are very much bonus tracks, so Goulding made the right decision by leaving them off the main storyline.

Goulding is an electronic legend and a sonic genius. Despite any weak spots on “Higher Than Heaven,” she is able to pick up the pieces and put forth the next potential summer banger record with a collection of intoxicating dance hits.

Summary Ellie Goulding has the pop-hit recipe, and while the formula can run stale at times, she adds enough flair to exclude “Higher Than Heaven” from significant critique.
3.5 Stars