Emeli Sandé’s aptly-named solo debut single Heaven was arguably the finest British pop song released in 2011. The Scottish singer-songwriter’s seraphic vocal swoops and producer Shahid ‘Naughty Boy’ Khan’s reassuring old-school breakbeats were warmly received by listeners, while a striking similarity to Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy can rarely hurt a song’s success.
Considering Heaven, which opens Our Version of Events, and the fact Sandé has written for everyone from Alicia Keys and Leona Lewis to Tinie Tempah, Sugababes and even Susan Boyle, it's perhaps reasonable to expect the most consistently great pop album since Girls Aloud’s Out of Control. Although this doesn’t arrive, we do have a charming and occasionally moving record full of care and polish, effort and grace.
"I can’t buy your love, don’t even want to try / Sometimes the truth won’t make you happy," sings Sandé on My Kind of Love, amid filtered pianos and surprisingly understated gospel chants. Lovely stuff, but it would have been a more compelling listen if the track was ludicrous and overblown, like the brilliant George Michael and Mary J. Blige cover of Stevie Wonder’s As.
Previous single Daddy is better. There’s a dose of believably bad male behaviour: "But friends keep telling you what he did last night / How many girls he kissed, how many he liked." Fittingly, the brooding mood created by a trip-hop beat and dramatic strings is reminiscent of another man famously lacking caution in his relationships: James Bond. On this evidence, expect Sandé to soundtrack a 007 movie within the next five years with the help of former grime man Khan.
A change of tone towards slow folk for Breaking the Law brings forth the album’s best lines: "Point it out, I’m gonna steal it / I will break in late at night, shake up how you’re feeling." Metaphorical though Sandé’s lyrics are, they retain a heartfelt truth, and it’s easy to imagine her peering round a corner at last summer’s protests and riots jotting notes feverishly.
Lifetime has a reference to books being burned and statues falling, while Hope includes the line, "I hope we can fix all that we burn". Barely a year after the Arab Spring, is it too much to hope for a politically-conscious pop star? One who can write brilliant songs and get fans thinking about something other than their broken hearts and rampant libidos?
The album ends with a version of Read All About It, the number one song she performed with Professor Green – whatever her motivation for including it here, neither Sandé’s talent nor ambition are in question. It seems unlikely she’ll make another album as restrained as this one, but it will be interesting to see whether she embraces a bolder sound, develops her own big ideas or, perhaps, delivers a captivating combination of the two.
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