ALBUM REVIEW: Lindsay Ell – ‘heart theory’

LifeInASong_UK

Lindsay Ell is back with her sophomore album, ‘heart theory’, the follow-up to ‘The Project’ way back in 2017. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s clear this collection has been a true labour of love for Lindsay, having been given a great amount of creative freedom to express her mindset at this point in her life and career. Whilst the debut was a showcase for Lindsay’s immense musicianship, ‘heart theory’ takes on a whole new level of maturity and bravery, seeing Lindsay dive into much deeper waters with her storytelling.

The tracklist has been intricately designed to take the listener on a journey. ‘heart theory’ is a concept album which explores the seven stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and acceptance. With the help of acclaimed songwriters like Brandy Clark, Laura Veltz and Nicolle Galyon, just to name a few, Lindsay has drawn from personal experience to craft a thoroughly compelling collection, full of the ups and downs one feels in the different stages of a relationship, and subsequent breakup.

“If theory is the science of music, heart theory is the science of a heart. I hope this roadmap can be a comfort if you need it, reassurance when you need to remember to believe in yourself or maybe just a glimpse into a memory that’s made you who you are.” 

The album kicks off with the brief ‘shock’ stage, with ‘Hits me’, written alongside Tyler Hubbard and Corey Crowder, a long-time collaborator of Florida Georgia Line. You could be forgiven for jumping to conclusions, given the co-writers, however this is very much a Lindsay Ell song, harking back to the haunting, electronic vibes of ‘Castle’, a personal favourite from the debut album. A brilliant, funky opener that portrays the bewilderment of that initial realisation that a relationship just isn’t going to work any longer.

Moving into the ‘denial stage’, we have the first of two Brandy Clark co-writes, ‘how good’, a lovely, pop-infused offering that approaches a difficult stage with a playful feel. It sets the tone, sound-wise, for much of the album; a hugely accessible, mainstream vibe that sees a shift from the alternative elements to her debut project. These songs don’t need any growing time, they connect instantly. This is followed up by ‘i don’t lovE you’, the lead single, which is interestingly the only track Lindsay didn’t have a hand in writing. This Adam Hambrick, Melissa Fuller and Neil Medley creation is one of the most powerful, heartbreaking moments on the album, and deserved so much more success than it garnered commercially. 

Next, we have the ‘anger’ stage, starting with the sassy ‘wAnt me back’, sticking two fingers up to the ex with a message of ‘you were lucky to have me’. It’s the album’s second single, and sounds like a sure-fire country radio hit; killer lyrics, and an infectious pop-country melody packed full of soaring electric guitars. In terms of the production throughout this project, Dann Huff has absolutely nailed it, and discovered a sound that works impeccably for Lindsay. ‘get oveR you’ follows in a similar, accusative vein, filled with frustration and anger. ‘wrong girl’ is an intriguing one; a shift in sound from the rest of the album with that thumping back beat and fast-paced lyrics, it’s a defiant message of self-confidence, and a refusal to be played with at the ex’s leisure. Powerful stuff.

‘body language of a breakup’ introduces us to the ‘bargaining’ stage, and this one is a huge highlight and simply has to be released as a single at some point. Genius writing from Lindsay alongside hit-maker Laura Veltz and Sam Ellis, watching as an observer as the ex gives the same treatment to his new girl – “Love is so funny, you can always call it, standing from a mile away”. The girl puts her hands in her coat, rolls her eyes and looks down at her phone, which is personified as the ‘body language of a breakup’ – a unique, clever take on a fairly familiar topic, which is always the goal as a songwriter. 

‘good on you’, the ‘depression’ stage, is another of the album’s many highlights. With a slightly more laid-back, soulful feel, it conveys the pain and jealousy of watching a lost love find peace and happiness with somebody new. It’s the first of two soulful tracks, followed up by ‘The oTHEr side’, which really is a stunner. Minor chords galore, as a country and soul fan, it’s an absolute dream, and sees Lindsay moving on from the pain and starting to live a new life, with self confidence and an acceptance that the past is the past. Such a cool groove, and one of the tracks you’ll probably go straight back to after the first complete listen. The Nicolle Gaylon and Jordan Reynolds co-write, ‘gO to’, completes the ‘testing’ stage with an explosive, anthemic affirmation that “I’m the heaven that you want to go to” – another one on the long list of potential radio hits that really packs a punch. 

Lastly, the ‘acceptance stage’ features the centrepiece track for the album, ‘make you’, which is an extreme moment of courage, which Lindsay has shared with the intention of helping others. With the help of Brandy Clark, she addresses being a survivor of sexual violence aged 13 with great honesty and bravery:

“The day we wrote ‘make you’ I knew we had written something special that will hopefully help others to not feel alone in their survival. And more personally, it was finally the moment in my life where I got to validate that little girl inside – letting her know that ‘I see her and I love her.’”

Lindsay has subsequently launched the Make You Movement, to help organisations that support at-risk youth, domestic abuse and sexual assault survivors by provided funds on an as-needed basis. More information at http://www.cfmt.org/makeyoumovement.

‘ReadY to love’, co-written with Jessie Jo Dillon, Matt McGinn and Joey Hyde, completes the album in emphatic fashion, leaving us with a big dose of optimism for the future. Putting the past behind her, this is an acclamation of a new stage in life, once again ready to find someone to settle down with, having put all the pain behind her. A high-energy, fitting conclusion to the journey. 

Lindsay has catapulted herself right into contention for our album of the year this year. Whilst ‘The Project’ garnered widespread acclaim, ‘heart theory’ really feels like Lindsay’s explosion onto the scene, and showcases what she’s all about, both as a musician and as a lyricist. It’s a hugely creative, colourful collection that takes the listener on a rollercoaster ride of emotions, with no album filler in sight. Each track has its own value, and it makes for a very enjoyable, interesting listen. Top job, Lindsay.

Dan Wharton
@LifeInASong_Dan

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