Like the deferred medical student from Alford, Aberdeen, “Our Version Of Events” is warm, wise, frank, funny, thoughtful and as inimitable as her vertical shock of blond hair and the Frida Kahlo tattoo that takes up most of her right arm. Reflecting the fears, thoughts, heartbreak and hopes of a young women, the record effortlessly appeals to anyone with a love of imagery, imagination and, ultimately, bloody great songs. Stuffed full of stirring strings, epic choruses and heart-stopping vocals; there are songs to sing in the shower, tracks to fall in love to and compositions to accompany you when heartbroken and drowning yourself in Chardonnay. The album is written entirely by Emeli and produced by her creative partner Shahid ‘Naughty Boy’ Khan.
It’s hard to pick highlights on an album that contains so many incredible moments; the gorgeous “Heaven” was the single that put Sandé on the map, hitting the charts at No.2, the expansive bass underscored and served as the perfect introduction to her incredible voice. “It’s about growing up and realising you can’t always be perfect; but what counts is knowing you could have done better, your intention to improve is what counts,” says Sandé. The track won her legions of fans, including Jools Holland and Coldplay’s Chris Martin.
Emeli’s single, “Daddy”, is an ode to addiction: “It’s one of the darker songs on the album,” Emeli explains. It was also the genesis of Naughty Boy and Sandé finding their sound; “Daddy”, alongside “Mountains”, were the very first songs that Sandé and Naughty Boy created together. “We knew straight away it was special and that we had something,” she says of their powerhouse partnership.
“Maybe”, produced by Paul Herman (Dido), is an orchestral led ballad that describes the disintegration of a relationship. “When we first moved in together couldn’t keep hands off each other/ Now we’re lying back to back, in silence in the black.” The brilliant “My Kind Of Love”, with its tribal drums, echoy, ethereal vocal and “my heart beats only for you” refrain is the one you need when dumped and sobbing into your pillow. Emeli’s vocal is utterly outstanding; sharp in places, haunted, it’s as much an evocative instrument as the sound-bed of sweeping strings. “Next To Me” could, at first glance, be about a boy, or even be perhaps spiritual in its sentiment. In fact, says Emeli, it was written about her No.1 love; music. “You won’t find him drinking under tables/ Rolling dice and staying out till 3/ You won’t ever find him being unfaithful/ You will find him next to me”.
Similarly “Clown” is another metaphor-laded masterpiece. Is it about being prepared to make a fool of yourself in a relationship? “It’s actually how I felt when I was trying to get signed,” Sandé remembers. “I was going for all these meetings and people were looking at me like ‘What do we do with you’? It’s about not allowing yourself to be taken for an idiot.”
The country/ folk refrains of “Suitcase”, she remembers with a laugh, was written in the same way that she and Naughty Boy wrote “This Will Be The Year” for Susan Boyle’s No.1 album. “I was drunk to be honest”. I found it a couple of weeks later and realised it was really good, even though I wrote it in twenty minutes!” As with every song on the record, it’s based on experience. “I haven’t had loads of boyfriends by the way,” she laughs. “But a relationship had ended a few weeks before and it just came out. It’s like writing your own diary but when you’re drunk.” It’s a beautiful song that shows off yet another heart-wrenching, chilling vocal. “I can’t stop my heart leaving through the door/ I can’t unpack my heart because he won’t look at me anymore.”
“Breaking The Law” happens to be the track that turned Alicia Keys onto Sandé. Picking her for Dazed’s 20 + 20 issue, in which a star act endorses an unknown, Alicia was wholehearted in her praise of the newcomer. “She’s my favourite new artist. Certain people just have the gift – and she’s one of them,” Keys told Dazed. “Her singing with just a guitar sends you to the moon. If you don’t get chills you’re not even alive! She’s super-special.”
Like many classic debut albums before it, Sandé’s debut is a moment in musical time. Credible without attempting to be too ‘cool’, heartbroken yet crazy in love, it is considered without trying to be too clever.
This is a distinctly British record with undeniable global appeal, created by one of the most exciting debut artists we have seen in recent years.