Originally published on So So Gay on 19 September 2014.
Following her shock exit from The X Factor in 2012 – losing out to eventual winner James Arthur – Ella Henderson had a lot of eyes on her waiting to see what she would do next. After almost two years of suspense, her highly anticipated debut album Chapter One is finally here, but does it herald the start of a promising career or flush her down the one-hit wonder lavatory, condemned to future obscurity?
Lead single ‘Ghost’ certainly opens the album on a high and, like Leona’s ‘Bleeding Love’, brings with it a lot of goodwill – not to mention high expectations – for the rest of her debut. With the exception of latest single ‘Glow’, Henderson has stuck her creative oar into all the tracks present on Chapter One – a laudable fact that should help silence the boresome ‘proper music’ fans who will be quick to dismiss her output as manufactured rubbish, thanks to her association with the reality TV juggernaut.
With their strong hooks, the irresistible ‘Ghost’ and euphoric ‘Glow’ were wise single choices, but there are a number of other equally good tracks here that would make for excellent future singles. The biting condemnation of a vain lover in ‘Mirror Man’ is the most obvious contender, with its Motown-with-a-contemporary-twist sound that embellishes Henderson’s lyrical barbs: ‘And so I thought / Your eyes were fixed on me / But now I know / Your self is all you wanna see’. In fact this recycled 60s vibe is something that works well for Ella, and continues on the delicate and soothing ‘Hard Work’, which has a hint of Shelley Fabares’ ‘Johnny Angel’ to it.
The breezy pop of ‘Rockets’ has a joyous Ariana Grande flavour to it, while honk-athons ‘Empire’, ‘Pieces’ and ‘Give Your Heart Away’ are perfect showcases for Henderson’s sound. There’s also the catchy laid-back disparagement of ‘The First Time’, which once again shows Henderson has a knack for turning her scorn into an effective pop number. However, if there’s one criticism to be levelled at Chapter One it’s that the more straightforward ballads, like ‘Yours’ and ‘All Again’, are pleasant but slightly forgettable inclusions.
Not yet out of her teens, even more mellow moments ‘Lay Down’ and ‘Missed’ may help make the case for Henderson as a legitimate artist, with admittedly impressive and nuanced vocals. But they also needlessly age the young singer, like something from her fourth or fifth album, when she’s become jaded and disillusioned with the pop market and wants to be all grown up with a stripped-back acoustic collection – perhaps after getting a tattoo or seven. As far as Chapter One is concerned, these tracks pale in comparison to their neighbours and break the rhythm of an otherwise very polished and promising debut album.
Nevertheless, the lasting impression of Chapter One is that, while it suffers from some weak ballads, it’s a strong first album from The X Factor favourite and Chapter Two will undoubtedly be soon to follow.
Standout Tracks: ‘Ghost’ / ‘Glow’ / ‘Mirror Man’ / ‘Rockets’