Album Review: Ellie Bleach’s ‘No Elegant Way to Sell Out’ is a masterclass in the tragically funny.

The Breakdown

An album replead with flawless lyricism, well-formed character and an amazing sense of direction. Ellie Bleach proves her songwriting skills again and again with No Elegant Way To Sell Out. Well worth a listen to anyone who's been in non-stop emotional turmoil these last two years.

‘Tragically funny’ is a phrase I think a lot of other writers will apply carelessly to Ellie Bleach’s new album: No Elegant Way to Sell Out. I am one of them, but to only take that from this album would be to boil it down to a one-note act, rather than the all encompassing showstopper of tragedy, comedy and genius one-liners that it is. 

Ever the fan of emotionally derelict male lead, Bleach delivers us a fair few iterations of familiar larger-than-life yet pitiful characters. The sell-outs, the lonely hustlers, the burnt out egotists and nine-to-fivers with swiss cheese souls are all meticulously captured in downtrodden situations looking for something they never quite find. 

Take for example: Tupperware Party, which does not attempt to reinvent the wheel when painting the embarrassing tale of a nepotism baby city bro who has everything yet nothing at the same time. We can all laugh at the way Bleach paints his obsession with a woman he barely knew in uni, but there is still that genuine, cutting heartache behind the track’s final lines. 

It’s the emotional dynamism of her lyrics that makes Bleach’s work unique, building these characters up as a laughing stock but still able to flip the switch and have them be entirely relatable. You can say it’s all done for schadenfreude, but I see it as the cohesive element that makes this record memorable.

A lot of these elements are brought together by the glimmering quality of the record’s production. Bleach’s soulful and staunch vocal performance is accompanied by a wide array of sounds, from echoing funfair-ride organs, to plaintive grand-piano and little surges of chattering phonelines. It’s often baroque, sometimes psychedelic, but always attention-grabbing.

Doing Really Well Thanks is Bleach’s crowning example of this sound, with an added catchy hook for good measure. An anthem of abandon, the lyrics and themes are really not been lost on me; working a low-paying job wishing I was doing anything else with my life. It builds on themes that are throughout the whole album, functioning as a sort of textbook example of the façade that Bleach finds intriguing to discuss.

It’s a song about the ‘young creative lifestyle’, and how looking successful is all that’s truly valued by the public. It isn’t preachy, or cartoonish-ly sardonic, it’s just very relatable. Bleach, on this album, leans into this unique perspective she has of the absurdity of modern life, giving herself enough emotional room to stop it from all being a joke every step of the way.

To me, it’s her willingness to find new angles that makes this undertaking worth it. As anyone can poke fun at social media, or iPhones or streaming services, but Bleach chooses herself as a starting point to bring attention to the sad lust for approval we’ve been left with.

The result of this: the definitive anthem of the creative rat-race in the year Anno Domini 2022.

The album ends on a soaring plea to ‘fuck everything’ and get lost in the layers of fake and real personas we all play; perhaps fitting for an exploration of selling out. Big Strong Man is a love song, a break-up song and a heretical denial of God’s existence.

It’s Bleach’s best vocal performance on the album, with her voice sounding in-command and burnt-out at the same time. I find it an incredibly sombre note to end a pertinent album, but the choral harmony of ‘I’ll never be good enough’ still plays out with a real beauty and grandeur.

No Elegant Way to Sell Out is amazingly well-rounded, with great performances, great production and fantastic lyrics. Ellie Bleach is an artist who is good at developing her ideas, and creating narratives and characters in her music that are compelling and unique.

This is a great album for lovers of baroque pop, good songwriting and emotional ruin.

No Elegant Way to Sell Out is available now to stream, and to buy in physical versions via the Ellie Bleach bandcamp page.

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