Back in 2012, Emeli Sandé’s debut album Our Version of Events spent 10 weeks at No 1. Her distinctive peroxide quiff was omnipresent; appearing everywhere from magazine covers to both the opening and closing ceremonies of the London Olympics. While it appeared that the Aberdeen-raised soul-pop singer was not averse to overexposure, she recently said: “I just wanted to disappear. I just had this overwhelming sensation and realisation everything had to stop, and then slowly it did.”
She duly disappeared, releasing no new music as a lead artist until last month’s bleeding-hearted, Beyoncé-proportioned single Hurts. It transpires that sudden and vast celebrity – Our Version of Events has sold almost five million copies – exerted strains on her personal life. A short marriage, which she had striven to protect from the public glare, ended. But Sandé is still standing tall, and the comeback starts here, before a partisan audience in the cloistered surrounds of Glasgow’s beautiful Òran Mór auditorium.
It’s apt that Sandé begins a tour of intimate venues and a cautious live rebaptism in support of her forthcoming second album, Long Live the Angels, at a converted church. There is much religious symbolism at work. Wearing a shimmering silver cross necklace, she sings sparse, gospelly scene-setter Intermission with laser-guided precision. Heaven is blasted at the rafters, before Give Me Something speaks to an inward search for “something I can believe in” – a song, she explains, that represents “the spiritual journey I’ve been on”.
If they gave out platinum discs for being nice, Sandé’s trophy wall would still gleam. But there’s a whiff of overearnestness now too, an artist whose in-between-song patter seems to mistake toe-curling sincerity for profundity (“Spread your light, don’t be ashamed to love,” she evangelises at one point). In spite of her personal trials, there are moments in which her melancholy would seem unfairly cruel to all those struggling singers with none of her sales figures to show for their graft.
Sandé has also phased out the drum’n’bass breakbeats that became her calling card; most new songs instead err towards the downtempo and the dramatic. Where a guest verse by a grime star might once have slotted in nicely during Happen, there’s instead a widdly, Clapton-esque guitar solo. There’s a touch of Mary J Blige about half-rapped R&B shuffler Babe. But moreover Sandé projects a sense of moving closer to Adele’s blockbusting adult-orientated Kleenex soul (Long Live the Angels was rumoured to have been delayed to avoid clashing with Adele’s 25).
No singer possessing Sandé’s obvious gifts need work in the slipstream of another, and her solo performance at the electric piano to pin-drop silence, in particular during Clown, is showstopping evidence of that. Read All About It is played with devotional zeal, as her voice bends notes, vaults octaves and shakes stained-glass windows with luxurious ease. She may be back to say nothing especially refreshing about the pains of success, but Sandé does at least have an exquisite way of saying it.
- At the Tunnels, Aberdeen, 3 October, and touring to Manchester and Hackney (all sold out).