Like many of her American contemporaries, Scottish diva Emeli Sande got her start singing hip-hop hooks and writing for other singers. But unlike other R&B upstarts, Sande wrote for the likes of Susan Boyle, and her singing skills are similarly operatic. “Heaven,” her UK debut single and her first album’s opening track, delivers a cyclone of symphonic breakbeat gospel that recalls early Massive Attack. “I wake with good intentions/ But the day it always lasts too long,” she wails, as an controlled chaos of strings, horns and James Brown’s evergreen “Funky Drummer” beat whirl around her like the special effects in a martial arts spectacular. She’s got a knack for drama, and there’s a lot of it throughout Our Version of Events.
SandÃ© sings with preternatural urgency, as if she were a superhero and her every note averted calamity. Accordingly, nearly every track here, slow or fast, is fitted out with suspense-raising orchestration. The effect works like a charm on the strongest compositions — “Heaven,” “My Kind of Love,” “Daddy” and “Next to Me.” When Sande’s melisma overpowers her melodies — most tellingly on “Hope,” the Alicia Keys-produced, Whitney-esque closing track — the intensity of nearly every element gets overwhelming. Sande finally holds back on the welcome acoustic ballad “Breaking the Law,” but her passion still smolders.