Long before Ellie Goulding hit No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in summer 2012 with "Lights" — a starry-eyed dance-floor trifle with subtle neo-disco beats and sleek keyboard burbles — the singer-songwriter was a star in her native England. Her 2010 debut album of the same name hit No. 1 on the UK album charts, while both a cover of Elton John's "Your Song" and the chance to sing at Prince William and Kate Middleton's April 2011 wedding reception further boosted her popularity. Even as all this craziness unfolded around her, Goulding was thinking about Lights' follow-up. To insulate herself from the chaos — and recover from a late 2011 breakup with radio DJ Greg James — she retreated to more tranquil locales to create what would become last year's Halcyon (Cherrytree/Interscope).
"I was out in the countryside — and that inspires me, because it's where I grew up, and I feel very at home," she says, calling from Manchester, England, a few weeks before Christmas. "It's the nicest feeling. But also just being able to write, being able to stare out and look at the surroundings I grew up around, I think inspired this record quite a lot. I [also] spent a lot of time in Ireland, southern Ireland, where I wrote a lot by the sea. And that was another amazing experience, to take the guitar to this place by myself and spend time with myself, because it's quite rare for me to be alone."
Goulding's introspection makes all the difference on Halcyon, which smartly wrestles with different stages of a breakup: figuring out that it's better to be apart, fiercely missing an ex yet wanting his/her comfort, and learning to stand on one's own. Despite such weighty topics, the album is uplifting — buoyed by its emotional struggles instead of wallowing in them. "I want my songs to have quite an emotional impact," she says, "but I also don't want them to have this complete sense of loss. I want there to be the element of hope in what I do."
Musically, Halcyon is far more sophisticated and nuanced than Lights: blustery orchestral ballads ("Explosions," "Dead in the Water") alternate with dramatic synthpop, danceable electropop, and beat-heavy electronica. Goulding's voice, too, sounds far more mature, her breathy singing brimming with confidence on songs such as the Adele-like stomp "Only You" and the optimistic "Anything Could Happen."
"I wanted this music to sound like what I could do, what I'm capable of," she says. "At the same time, I just wanted to make a record I'm proud of — I wanted to make something more soulful and probably more true to who I am now. I think this album is taking me to places that the other album wouldn't have."
ELLIE GOULDING + ST. LUCIA:: House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St, Boston :: January 23 @ 7 pm :: All Ages :: $35 to $45 :: 888.693.2583 or hob.com/boston