Captivating, danceable synthpop that Goulding is hoping will take her to the upper echelons of pop stardom.
As an album of dance songs to get you off your feet and moving, Delirium is very good. Goulding and her label, Interscope, hired some of the hottest producer talent in the world: Adele-collaborator Greg Kurstin; OneRepublic’s frontman, Ryan Tedder, who has had even greater success as a producer of danceable pop; and the heavy-hitting Max Martin, who since 1999 has written or co-written over 20 number one hits. Such producers know how to create songs that can fill the airways of radio and the clubs, and when you layer Ellie Goulding’s distinctive voice into their catchy rhythms and hooks, you’re looking at -- or listening to -- a likely and large commercial success.
Ellie Goulding’s career got off to a bang in 2010 when she won the BBC’s Sound of 2010 Poll and the Critics Choice Award at the Brit Awards, only the second artist to sweep that double. With her debut album, Lights, and her second album, Halcyon, which eventually topped the album charts after its release in 2012, Goulding became one of the biggest-selling pop singers. That success only grew when in early 2015 her single from the film Fifty Shades of Grey, “Love Me Like You Do”, hit the top spot in 70 countries and broke the record for the most streamed song in one week. What do you do as a follow-up? Go even bigger, somehow. About Delirium, Goulding has said that she viewed “this album as an experiment -- to make a big pop album… I made a conscious decision that I wanted it to be on another level.”
The unceasing dance rhythms and synthpop of these songs match the rather limited scope of lyric subjects. These songs explore how infatuation arises from sexual passion, and whether that infatuation will last. There’s nothing here about family, or good work or social issues, or spirituality or art, or the numerous other things that make up a rich human life. The one relationship song about a childhood friendship, “Army”, is rather trite, at best, with lines such as “When I’m with you / When I’m with you / I’m standing with an army / I’m standing with an army." In “Don’t Panic” Goulding sings “Yeah we break and we break / And we just can't stop / So we just keep breaking hearts," but there’s no self-examination of whether this is good, or bad, or what a person might want to do other than just keep dancing. “Don’t Need Nobody” might have the lines most emblematic of the album’s narrow lyric range. “So many bodies I’ve touched / Crashing around me like dust / You are the realest thing I’ve never had to fake," Goulding sings over a driving beat, in a song that, to my surprise, I actually like.
Goulding’s voice spans three and a half octaves, and she glides up and down her register with ease, sounding wispy and ethereal with her high notes and sensual and resonant in her low. A Goulding vocal over dance beats is immediately recognizable, and the songs on Delirium have so much repetition with the sonic and lyric lines that they get into your head immediately. While that repetition might prompt a listener to download a song immediately, the album suffers from predictability. If you want to host a house party where the dancing doesn’t stop and you can have one album on, rather than making your own playlist, then Delirium would serve you well. But if you like to listen to an entire album as a representation of an artist’s emotional and musical psyche, then you’re probably not going to be interested in Delirium. Download, instead, a few danceable songs, perhaps “On My Mind” or “Something in the Way You Move”. Or you could try my favorite song on the album, “Lost and Found”, which sounds less like a song for clubs and more like a song in the pop vein of a band such as Of Monsters and Men.
Goulding’s sound has gained an even greater sheen and expectations have grown, and we’ll see, in the coming months, whether Delirium is the big album that Goulding is aiming for. Will she make that desired move into the pop stratosphere, up there with Beyonce and Katy Perry and Taylor Swift?