Emeli Sandé's Real Life aims to alleviate, uplift, and motivate. Well-matched with the versatile Troy Miller, whose production work includes sessions with Gregory Porter, Laura Mvula, and Rebecca Ferguson, the singer and songwriter -- this set's sole lyricist -- devotes less time to introspection, offering instead a personal growth endcap worth of support, encouragement, and praise, and in one instance, a to-do list of sorts. Like Sandé's two previous studio albums, it's based in mature pop, but its integration of other genres and styles -- a little reggae, some blues, disco, and more gospel than ever -- is done with more finesse. The seamlessness, combined with full-hearted vocal performances, counteracts all the platitudes and flying-bird-as-freedom metaphors. Tucked into the second half are two of Sandé's most powerful songs, and they're consecutive. The flawlessly assembled "Survivor," a gospel anthem in every aspect, contains a career-defining vocal performance. It gradually unfurls with a rippling rhythm accented with sweeping organ and strings, a spirited choir with some call-and-response -- the (water)works -- as it lifts off. Rather than go the conventional route by following with a restful ballad, the singer whisks the listener to the dancefloor with the crisp disco of "Extraordinary Being." There's so much conviction in Sandé's voice that its stock flattery and motivational phrases seem trite only in print. A couple old-fashioned love songs toward the end, including the clap-along title track -- another churchified number -- add emotional variety without sounding like consolation prizes for those who expected to get more material like "Next to Me" and "Hurts."
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman