Album review: Emeli Sande's 'Our Version of Events'
Opening with a swirl of strings and beats that evokes the glory days of '90s British dance music (think the underrated group, the Chimes, or a vintage Paul Oakenfold remix), Emeli Sande's debut CD, "Our Version of Events," lives up to the hype that has preceded it from the singer's native U.K. -- where it's been a massive commercial and critical hit. It's filled with finely crafted, expertly produced love songs about complex, complicated emotions (not a single reference to what she bought someone, or what they bought her), as well as songs thickly peppered with social consciousness.
Highlights include "Daddy," about the insurmountable magnetism of a man who's clearly wrong for you. In the hook, when she sings the line, "You're looking like you really like him, like him…," her voice shifts to a sultriness that conveys the erotic pull of this ill-suited man. "Mountains," a love song woven with details of economic struggle; "Suitcase," sung from the perspective of the one who's dumped; and "Breaking the Law," about the lengths to which our heroine will go for her lover; all contain lyrics worthy of Tracy Chapman.
That's not to say the collection is flawless. At times Sande leans too hard on a catch-in-the-throat quality in her singing (as on "Hope" and "Read All About It, Pt. III"). Some lyrics, as on the track "My Kind of Love," are suffused with self-pity that also carries a whiff of unexamined superiority, and at times her songwriting can remind you of that quiet, undeniably smart English Lit major whose work slips from confident to self-satisfied.
The greatest weakness though is that on many of her socially conscious songs (the above-mentioned "Hope" and "Read All About It,") the edges have been buffed away; they're vague and generic enough to be non-threatening, while the listener who sings along can be flattered (or flatter him or herself) that they're saying something profound when they really aren't. But in comparison to the drudge that is contemporary mainstream American pop and R&B, Emeli's folk-inflected soul/pop is Nina Simone and Bob Dylan all in one.
"Our Version of Events"
Three stars (Out of four)
-- Ernest Hardy