The mistake Emeli Sandé made on her debut album, Our Version of Events, was to allow any rogue edginess to be eradicated. But becoming synonymous with pop tameness – albeit an impressive, immaculate tameness – didn’t prevent it from becoming the bestselling album of 2012, which puts her under considerable pressure to not stray far on the follow-up. If anything, parts of this album creep even closer to the middle of the road: whisper-to-a-scream ballads such as Happen are interesting only for their vastness. But Sandé has diverged in other ways. Her towering voice – sometimes, as on Hurts, quivering with the aftershock of her recent divorce – is frequently complemented by the sparsest possible backing. I’d Rather Not is shot through with harp, percussion and nothing else; on Tenderly, an African choir pays delicate tribute to her Zambian heritage, and Garden uses spectral Auto-Tune and chilly bars from MC Jay Electronica to achieve its ghostly effect. For Sandé, that’s tantamount to edginess.
Caroline Sullivan writes about rock and pop for the Guardian