IoS pop review: Ellie Goulding, Guidhall, Southampton

There are only so many chances you can give insipid female singer-songwriters

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The Independent Culture

Everyone deserves a second chance. I'll never forget the moment I stood in the middle of the Reading Festival transfixed by Super Furry Animals singing "Demons", having originally dismissed them as just another bunch of lairy lad-rockers, and they subsequently became one of my favourite bands. This year, after a lifetime of loathing, I've finally learned to love mashed potato and Yorkshire pudding. Maybe it's Ellie Goulding's turn tonight.

The only person who looked more nonplussed than me by Ellie Goulding's double Sound of 2010 and Brit Awards Critics' Choice win was Ellie Goulding, as awkward and baffled by being anointed The Chosen One as Monty Python's Brian. To me, and perhaps in her heart of hearts, to Goulding herself, the girl from Offa's Dyke was little more than an indie Dido, a nice middle-class girl with nothing much to say about anything, and her insipid debut album Lights did little to dispel that impression.

But she's back with a second album, Halcyon, sporting an undercut shaved into her hair that makes her look like an Italian tourist who's come to Carnaby Street searching for the spirit of punk. If this makeover, visually at least, signifies an edgier intent, then there wasn't much evidence to be found on the album itself, which largely involved big orchestral arrangements of the sort with which Florence Welch and Beth Jeans Houghton have already prospered, as well as the odd bit of Calvin Harris-assisted dancefloor trickery.

Who knows. Maybe I wasn't listening closely enough. Maybe, in the flesh, something will suddenly click. So here she is, ending the Halcyon tour in the ever-bizarre Southampton Guildhall, an intimidatingly, inhumanly high-ceilinged Art Deco oblong with a balcony tacked at the rear like an afterthought. The budget doesn't stretch to bringing in an orchestra, so Goulding stands at the mic belting hell out of an upright drum and manipulating a small console.

Occasionally, she and her band attain a grandeur that fills the cavernous space: the dubstep climaxes and drops on "Lights" and, to a lesser extent, the mildly diverting Cher autotune on "Figure 8". Goulding the performer, however, never dominates the room. Inflecting her sentences with Aussie Upspeak and using phrases like "one lucky beeyatch", it's as though she's a random student who's turned up to see her own show and somehow been press-ganged into appearing on stage.

"Have you broken up with someone", she asks, "and it's a bit rubbish ... but a year later it's OK?" A fiery cauldron of turbulent human passions this is not. Hers is an oeuvre wherein lyrics as trite as "Baby I'm on my knees" pass unchecked and unquestioned.

If you thought Gabrielle Aplin's version of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "The Power of Love" was a cultural war crime which should hasten a decade-long moratorium on the entire winsome female singer-songwriter covers genre, you were absolutely right. The blame, however, lies ultimately with Goulding. Two years before they deployed Aplin's atrocity for a Christmas ad campaign, John Lewis persuaded Ellie Goulding to give Elton John's "Your Song" the same treatment. Is she ashamed? Not a bit ... she encores with it.

I wonder what anyone is getting from this. No one appears to be having the best time ever. No one is having their mind blown. No one's favourite singer is Ellie Goulding. Not even Ellie Goulding's favourite singer is Ellie Goulding. Everyone is more bored than they want to admit.

I guess it's not the end of the world. Boring people need music too, so let them have it.

But for me? No third chances.

Critic's Choice

Snow Patrol exploit the festive potential of their name with two hometown Acoustic Christmas shows at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, today (matinee and evening). Meanwhile, Gary Barlow continues his ongoing solo tour at Hammersmith Apollo, London (Thu) and City Hall, Newcastle (Fri).