REVIEW: ELLA MAI MAKES TRIUMPHANT RETURN WITH SOPHOMORE ALBUM ‘HEART ON MY SLEEVE’
7 May 2022
It’s been just short of four years since the release of her Grammy award-winning self-titled debut, and now Ella Mae has made her return with a body of work that has a heightened level of introspection into a scorned heart with shimmers of hope. Across the album, she takes us through the emotional extremities (and subtleties) of the grip a lover can have on your mind, body and soul, all the while trying to resist – and on occasion, submitting to – being succumbed by the overwhelming intoxication that is love and lust.
Consisting of 15 tracks with appearances from shining stars Lucky Daye, Latto, and Roddy Rich, ‘Heart On My Sleeve’ is a body of work that will not disappoint fans of her debut. The arresting melodies that propelled Mae into stardom are here in abundance, but consist of more seasoned lyricism from someone who has clearly had their share of heartbreak and betrayal since. The album opens with the appropriately titled ‘Trying’ which illustrates the hopeful beginnings of a brand new courtship, but quickly turns a corner with the ironically titled second track ‘Not Another Love Song’: the first promo track from the album released in 2020 which feels like an extension to her debut’s successful formula, co-written by long-time collaborator Varren Wade.
As the album progresses, we move into darker territory. Delicately chanting lyrics such as ‘how could you switch it up on me in my darkest hour’ on the poignant track ‘How’, and recalling her lover shining “light on my scarred soul” on the haunting piano ballad ‘Hide’, she creates an atmospheric chamber of emotional turmoil combined with glimpses of solace. It is here where her growth is most apparent.
By the latter half of the album, we are introduced to a new sense of self with the acoustic guitar-driven ‘Power Of A Woman’; a sultry ode to her own power, proclaiming certainty in her worth and what she has to offer. This notion of certainty is continued in ‘A Mess’ featuring R&B heavyweight Lucky Daye – filled with wonky synths and delicately layered vocals, we’re exposed to a classic duet that could be the soundtrack to relationships for a generation of twenty-somethings still trying to figure it all out.
The front-running track here has to be ‘Leave You Alone’ which rears its head towards the end of the album. A candid account of being overcome with lust laced with toxicity; a combination many of us know all too well.
Overall, ‘Heart On My Sleeve’ will not disappoint anyone that fell in love with her debut which exploded her onto the scene very rarely endured by a British R&B artist. She has stayed true to the R&B sound in which she helped to bring back into British mainstream but with an extra edge through more daring arrangements and atmospheric production.
Words by: Chris Zah