It's understandable why Emeli Sande's debut, Our Version of Events, is already a hit in the U.K. The album integrates dance, R and B, pop, and soul to create a lush and energetic musical world. Sande has a lot in common with the late Whitney Houston in that she her vocal performances often allow her to straddle multiple genres; these are the moments when the album shines.
The highlights are the upbeat tracks. The opener, "Heaven," makes use of layered synthesizers and drum machines, creating an "epic" effect so often credited to bands like M83. Breakout single, "Next to Me," balances live percussion with strong piano and vocal performances, and the track makes the singer sound strong and confident. Best of all is "Wonderful," an optimistic pop anthem that, again, benefits from drums. The song is also Sande's most inviting singing performance, as it allows her to open up on the chorus without making her voice quiver or catch, as it has a tendency to do on so many of her tracks.
Unfortunately, the ballads do not fair as well. When things slow up, the album bogs down and we get to see less of what Sande can do as a vocalist; she is a more interesting performer when she is railing and strident rather than when she is somber. Still, the ballads--like "Mountains," "River," and "Clown"--are lovely, even though a bit dull.
Our Version of Events is a strong debut by an artist who knows how to sing about love and heartache. At her best, Sande is a bold pop star who can mix musical aesthetics to create interesting tension in her songs. Perhaps her follow up will continue to highlight these remarkable strengths.