Warner Music UK Ltd
Release Date: March 11th 2022
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- What About Us
- Let’s Go Home Together (with Tom Grennan)
- Out My Head
- Thank You For The Hell
- Sorry That I Miss You
- Everything I Didn’t Say
- Bad News
- Cry On Me (feat. Mikky Ekko)
- Good Things Take Time
- Northern Lights
- Set In Stone
During my formative years, I had a pretty limited and narrow musical diet. I think I’ve mentioned this many times throughout the years; but Jon and myself virtually listened to CCM (contemporary Christian music) during our teenage years. Not that that is a bad thing by any means; however, there is so much more music out there that God can use to inspire us and God can use to draw people closer to Him and God can use just to entertain us and to help us understand people better. From 2019 onwards (when Jon and I started- and are still embarking on- our blog series about influential artists of all time); I have grown so much more as a person because of my intentional expansion in listening to many different kinds of music- yet throughout this time I’ve noticed something quite strange. And it is that music artists from the U.S. are treated (by critics and listeners) like they’re a cut above the rest. Which isn’t necessarily the case.
Now, I know that I shouldn’t really be comparing artists’ nationalities and authoritatively declaring that this artist is better than that artist because they’re from America and not the UK, or they’re from Australia and not New Zealand. We should judge artists on their talents and gifts regardless of where they’re from. But we subconsciously do that don’t we? We gravitate to the artists from our birth country and subconsciously thumb our nose at everyone else. We’re insular in our bubbles when it comes to music, and maybe this way of thinking may slowly change for all of us in the coming years and years. But as of right now, because the way the global music market is, in that it’s still the highest pinnacle for any artist to break into the U.S. music market; born and bred U.S. artists (no matter the genre) are given… probably not a free pass, but definitely a gentler yard stick. Generally, and this is from what I’ve observed- listeners treat artists from anywhere else with maybe a much harsher criteria of whether an artist is deemed ‘good’ or not. And this next artist, of whom I discovered her music from just browsing the pre-order section on the store part of my apple music app, reminds me that you shouldn’t judge an artist based on their popularity and where they come from.
Ella Henderson reminds me so much of Anne-Marie musically and vocally. I enjoyed Anne-Marie’s album Therapy quite a bit, and thus as soon as l listened to “Brave”, the lead single from Ella’s latest album Everything I Didn’t Say, I knew I had to review her music. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t a Christian album. It didn’t matter that maybe almost everyone in the wider world outside of the UK didn’t know who Ella was- one single iota. What mattered and still matters is that this is a powerful, moving and inspiring album. Just like Ella’s countrymen and women before her (like Little Mix, Spice Girls, Leona Lewis, Ronan Keating, Ed Sheeran, Delirious?, U2, Dua Lipa, Adele, The Cranberries, Queen, Snow Patrol, The Beatles and Coldplay to name a few); Ella reminds us that artists don’t have to be from the U.S. to be good artists. And once we dispel this crazy rumour, then no doubt we’ll be able to appreciate the great artists, no matter where they come from. And yep, that’s inclusive of Ella Henderson.
To be honest with all of you, I hadn’t really heard anything from Ella’s prior to this album. Nothing from her debut album Chapter One (released 8 years ago!); so I was just going in blind. Which could be unwise depending on your viewpoint of how you all listened to music… but because I literally had no expectations, I found myself to be incredibly pleased and wowed by this release. And thus, as I’ve listened quite a number of times to Everything I Didn’t Say, I’ve concluded that Ella’s second album is maybe one of the year’s most underrated albums and one of the albums you all should check out- even if you don’t like British artists or pop artists. Everything I Didn’t Say is the result is an album full of heartfelt and hopeful ballads, and inspiring pop tunes as well; and if you’re not that caught up on what Ella is all about, you can read about her on Wikipedia here. But for now, if you want to read along, let me dive deep into these 16 tracks. Hopefully by the end of it, we’ll find out whether this album is one of the more inspirational pop albums of the year or not.
I think it’s [music and songwriting] just always been my outlet to express my feelings. As a kid I wrote a lot of poetry in school and then I would go home and sit at the piano and teach myself chords.
I think this definitely formed my love for songwriting from an early age. I grew up surrounded by family members who loved all different genres of music, but I would say artists like Aretha Franklin, Carole King and Alicia Keys were a few in particular who hugely inspired me because they were badass keys players and not only were they incredible artists – they wrote all their own songs and wrote for other artists.
It is definitely a different era with all the streaming and digital platforms. I think it is something to embrace and especially for new emerging talent it offers a space for fans to be in control of deciding who they wanna hear and how they hear them.
It’s every British artist’s dream to break America, so when I came out there and I had the opportunity to perform on some of the biggest shows like Dancing With The Stars, The Voice and The Ellen Show – they were just huge pinch me moments.
I suppose it [the new album] is a very honest and unfiltered body of work. This album represents how life has been for me transitioning from a teenager into a young woman. It’s about me making mistakes, falling in love, falling out of love and also a lot of self-discovery along the way. It’s all there – my word vomit. Haha… But I hope you like it, and you can really relate to at least one song from the album.
Opening the almost daunting track list with the pulsating pop melody “Emotions”, Ella wears her heart on her sleeve deeply here, as she powerfully and confidently sings about emotional and mental health; about her bring drowned and almost suffocated by her emotions. A song that places our well-being at the forefront, Ella unequivocally relays to us that it’s ok not be ok- and she also reminds us that sometimes we are our own worst enemy and that at times, it’s best to let go and live life in the moment with friends and family. With pressure coming from all sides telling us what we should do, how we should dress, who we should be; it’s easy to be caught up in our emotions that can change from day to day. However, Ella reminds us that instead of being stifled by them, we should use these emotions as a reminder that we are human, and a reminder that we can be the best version of ourselves when we use our emotions in an effective and constructive way, rather than letting it rule our lives. “What About Us?”, a heartbreaking melody that poses a rhetorical question, delves deep into the persona’s fractured relationship with their ex, and how they had to leave because the love was toxic. A song that is a warning to us all to exit the relationships (romantic or platonic) that bring us down and aren’t healthy for us at all, “What About Us?” can seem bleak because it offer no solution, but Ella inspires us to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask us what kind of person we want to be.
With these first two songs being so thematically intense and heavy, the rest of the album continues on this vein, making for an album full of heartbreak, but full of hope also. “Ugly”, probably the album’s most important track, is a definite highlight, with Ella dispelling the myth that we all need to be perfect people, and instead providing us with the space for be honest, authentic, vulnerable, and human. A song that celebrates our individuality and reminds us that ‘…it’s okay to be lost, to feel lonely, sometimes I just don’t know what I’m doing, one day I’m beautiful, then I’m ugly, but those days, they remind me that I’m human, so go ahead and rip, tear me apart, ’cause I’m not afraid of my flaws, if the scars on my skin make me ugly, then let’s get ugly…’, Ella powerfully encourages us to be happy in our own skin, and to be content and satisfied just the way we are. “Let’s Go Home Together”, unfortunately, is a let-down for me, with the fun and breezy pop track not really resonating with me at all (simply because it’s a hook-up song that doesn’t mean much lyrically!); however, “Brave” epitomises the heart of the entire album, with Ella providing hope and healing through a quasi-gospel R&B/soul style melody.
A song that speaks about unity and helping out those who need it in whatever way we can, “Brave” actually speaks to the heart of what it means to be a Christian- to be the hands and feet of Jesus and practically help the widows and the orphans. With such a profound music video and Ella emphatically relaying that ‘…when trouble wrecks your heart and the world’s gone dark, and your soul is black and blue, we still got love to give, got a lot to live for, we’ll pull through, brave, I’ll be brave, oh, you can pray for me, I’m gon’ pray for you, and even when it hurts baby, I’ll be brave for you, ooh, brave, ooh, ’cause baby, I’ll be brave for you…’, this melody is certain to provide comfort and healing… and hopefully will encourage all of us to be active and do something about the injustices in our community around us. “Out My Head”, another personal song, presents to us a dark picture about Ella’s ex, yet this song speaks about finally getting that toxic someone ‘out my head’ (which is indeed a good thing!); while the ironic and somewhat tongue-in-cheek acoustic melody “Thank You For The Hell” speaks about Ella’s failed relationship once more- this time she ‘thanks’ her ex for the hell he’s made her life and declares that in the end her life’s all the more better for the relationship not working. “Sorry That I Miss You” again speaks about Ella’s ex, and is a piano ballad that includes all of Ella’s feelings and emotions about him, and concluding that sometimes she still misses him and says stupid stuff. It’s a song that I’m sure many of us can relate to; and as we all are reminded that we are human and we can fail and we can be less than the best versions of ourselves, Ella encourages us to own our mistakes and to apologise to everyone we need to.
Ella then owns up to her own mistakes and takes responsibility for the part she played in the breakdown of a relationship, in the piano only title track. It’s a vulnerable, heart-breaking and emotional song that may or may not be inspired by the same relationship breakdown in previous songs “Out My Head” and “Thank You For The Hell”. Regardless if this is about the same relationship or not, Ella reminds us all that no one person in a broken down relationship is innocent in how everything went down; and if we want to salvage our relationships, we need to have courage and say everything we need to say- with Ella singing out that ‘…I’ve let myself down wth everything I didn’t say to you, like “Sorry for all my mistakes, ’cause I’ve made a few”, but you’re still the one who taught me how to love, maybe that’s something I don’t say enough, but now I’m causing both our hearts to break with everything I didn’t say…’. “Bad News” is a simple pop EDM melody where Ella proclaims her ex is ‘bad news’ and that it was because of him that she needs to go to therapy to work our her issues and demons; while the stirring, thought-provoking and reflective piano ballad “Cry On Me”, with Mikky Ekko, speaks to the core of our souls, with Ella and Mikky delving deep into the concept of true connection, with two people asking each other for comfort and healing, that ‘…you can cry on me, and if it gets too much, you’re safe to cry on me, darling, I’ll take it all, I’ll take it all…when you’re lost in between, you can cry on me…’.
“Good Things Take Time”, the most upbeat song on the album, speaks about coming through a bad relationship and realising that you feel free and lighter and happier- it’s a joyous celebratory track; while the acoustic melody “Northern Lights” carries on with the theme of being happy and content, with Ella singing her praises for her current boyfriend, that “…it’s about me falling in love again, but at the same time, being terrified to do so. My fella Jack was an Olympic swimmer and the idea for this song came to me while I was driving to Loughborough, where he used to train. We’re both northern, so it’s a nod to him but also to my roots. Going back up north and spending time with my family was a really big part of my recovery…”. “Set In Stone” is a powerful, emotional melody about living life in the moment wherever it takes you, no matter if the outcome is good or bad; as Ella also reminds us that memories hold power and can be healing and therapeutic, and thus living and being free in the moment can be good for your mental and emotional health. It’s because you can look back at moments in your life and appreciate them for what they are- moments where you grew as a person; and when you look at this song as this introspective, reflective melody, then it’s say it’s a pretty important song. “Body” on the surface is a song about sex, however a deeper listen reveals a profound melody about wanting to be intimate with someone and hopefully working past deep issues about body image. It’s a song that requires you to look past the obvious meaning and onto something deeper and much more uplifting- Ella reminds us that when we find that someone special, they won’t care about the flaws on our body at all. And as Everything I Didn’t Say ends on a hopeful and positive note in the piano led gospel infused “Places”; Ella passionately and vibrantly sings about travelling the world and spending quality time with her new boyfriend, and also subtly encouraging us all to make plans and spend time with friends and family- simply because we don’t; know how much time we’ve all got left on this earth!
My exit with Syco was a very mutual decision, I’d had a lot of success with them over six or seven years, that’s a long time to be in a relationship with anyone in life so I just felt it was the right time. I wanted to move on and do different things in my career and we just wanted to part ways. Everything was handled great, the only thing I wanted to walk away with was my music and that’s what I had in my hands.
So there are some of those songs on the album, like ‘Ugly’, that was a song I’d written at that time. There are certain songs that have lived through and in a way that’s the cool thing about this album, it literally is the last eight years of what’s happened to me. The transition between record labels, taking a step back and asking what kind of artist I want to be, or if I even want to be an artist anymore, or just a songwriter. All of these things went though my mind, but I think what drove me back into it and putting time and energy into my own project was that there is no bigger high for me, personally, than hearing a song you’ve written being sung back to you. No chocolate bar, no glass of wine, no sex, nothing beats that feeling.
It did take me a while to navigate where I wanted to go with it, and things happened in my personal life that I think held me back from fully letting go into the writing process, whether that was being in toxic relationships or just not feeling the best in myself, I’ve struggled a lot with anxiety and with own mental health at times. All of that needed to be addressed and I doing it away from everything, out of the limelight, I think was probably the best thing I ever did.
Even though I say that, I carried on doing things, collaborations. I made a lot of dance records with some amazing close friends of mine in this industry, that was a lot of fun, but I think I was tip-toeing around what I’m doing now.
I think you can probably tell that I’ve listened to a lot of Fleetwood Mac, the Rumours album. There’s definitely a sort of Stevie Nicks element to it, in some of the acoustic guitars and in the vocals. And Amy Winehouse, for her lyrics and her storytelling. I just found her so captivating, even on the first album Frank, and Back to Black is obviously just a phenomenal record. I think for me, telling a story through your music is not really something I set out to do, it’s just how I write. It’s like an open diary, it’s my form of therapy and I just wanted to share that.
So artists like Stevie, Amy, Alicia Keys’ Songs in A Minor, I’m obsessed with that album, and Kate Bush as well. People that set out to do their own thing, in their own lane, and just f***ing nailed it. That’s the kind of place my inspiration fell from, although I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been inspired by just one particular artist, I’ve always taken inspiration from many different genres and artists, but especially people who have a grit about them, something that’s real and that you believe from the get-go.
I never stop writing so I’m getting songs in the bank for whatever they might be, also I’m doing some writing for some really exciting projects outside of my own album, so there’s gonna be a lit of music from me this year. I love creating and I love collaborating, we’ll see how this year goes, but as long as I can keep doing what I’m doing now I’ll be a very happy lady.
Ella Henderson’s Everything I Didn’t Say, aside from “Let’s Go Home Together”, comprises of songs full of life, emotion, and inspiring messages. This is Ella at her most vulnerable and honest; and really, there’s musically something for everyone here. Piano ballads, upbeat tracks… no doubt you’ll be quietly (or loudly!) singing Ella’s praises in the coming weeks and months and years. Am I a fan of Ella? Umm, maybe. Maybe a casual fan? Regardless, what matters more is that this album hits you at all the right emotions and feelings. This album is a stellar album with little flaws, so listen yourself, find out, and be inspired! Well done Ella, I can’t wait to hear what is in store for you next! Howabout less than 8 years until album number three? Maybe a Christmas album or a live album?
5 songs to listen to: Ugly, Brave, Everything I Didn’t Say, Cry On Me, Places
RIYL: Jess Glynne, Anne-Marie, Bebe Rexha, Demi Lovato, James Arthur, Ellie Goulding