Release Date: Nov 6, 2015
Record label: Interscope
Since scoring her first UK No 1 single with 2013’s none-too-subtle Burn, Ellie Goulding has moved away from the folk-tinged, wispy-voiced lilt of her past. Featuring production from A-listers Max Martin and Greg Kurstin, third album Delirium goes straight for the pop jugular, unleashing a relentless barrage of bangers that almost always hit the spot. Around U is a deliciously catchy, synth-laden ode to new love, while Don’t Panic and Codes turn relationship issues into shimmery, electro-pop behemoths.
British chanteuse Ellie Goulding returns with her highly anticipated third studio album, 2015's expertly produced Delirium. Goulding's previous effort, 2012's Halcyon, was a hypnotically ambient, lightly experimental album that balanced catchy pop hooks with textural electronic soundscapes. While Delirium isn't devoid of this electronic atmosphere, it's somewhat more mainstream in its tone, and finds Goulding expanding her sonic palette with a melodically catchy set of more R&B-infused songs.
Making a full-blown pop record like Delirium isn't a stretch for Ellie Goulding—she's seen booming, bright-eyed singles like "Lights" and "Anything Could Happen" become Top 20 hits, after all. Even when she was making low-key electro-pop, Goulding’s music has always played heavily with a high drama beyond reality. She’s good at selling stories, constructing big "us against the world" tracks for fans who want songs that play like fairy tales and battle cries like some dancefloor-ready Natasha Khan.
Ellie Goulding's third studio album, Delirium, is by far her most pop facing, and it's surprisingly compelling. The first track, "Intro (Delirium)," primes listeners for an ethereal, otherworldly experience. It's haunting and mystical, perhaps even conjuring a recollection of Lisa Gerrard for the briefest, most fleeting moment. That flavor quickly proves unique among the 16 songs on the album, but what follows is far from disappointing.
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.
“I love that people are curious about what kind of artist I am. Who knows where my next album will go?” Ellie Goulding said to me in 2010, in a tiny Scotland venue most renowned for being the place where Oasis were discovered. The fidgety upstart did some yoga, spoke about her love of drums, gushed about Björk, Four Tet, and Bon Iver, and was reluctant to identify herself as a pop star.
U.K. pop star Ellie Goulding's third album opens radiantly: two minutes of her 3D-operatic voice, accompanied by soft-focus strings and throw-pillow percussion, multi-tracked and lifting sky-high to show off every rainbow hue of a dazzling instrument. The track is called "Intro," but its tone is more like a farewell, forlorn and ambiguous. And in a sense, Goulding is saying goodbye – leaving behind the EDM textures and Kate Bush art-folk pedigree of her music to this point as she attempts a full-scale embrace of mainstream dance pop.
Ellie Goulding has never hidden her ambition to be a pop star of the highest magnitude. Back in 2009, when she was opening for Passion Pit in the UK as an up and coming electro-acoustic songwriter, her hunger for ascendancy was already obvious. Moves like releasing Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ at Christmastime made her intentions clearer, while shimmering singles like ‘Lights’ helped her crack the States.
Far from being a copy-and-paste instant starlet, Hereford’s Ellie Goulding, after emerging as the BBC’s quite distinctive Sound of 2010, slowly established a foothold in mainstream pop, aided by breathily-voiced electro-pop smash Lights – a smash in the US at least, failing to make the Top 40 here. The album that preceded it was built around similarly wispish vocals, but tended more to a kind of acoustic-laced EDM. The album and second single Starry Eyed performed well in the UK, but it was a lachrymose cover of Elton John’s evergreen Your Song, taken from the John Lewis Christmas advert – around the time it became the thinkpiece-spawning cultural event de nos jours – that brought Goulding to wider attention here.
Pop music. It all sounds the same these days, doesn’t it? Maybe your dad’s finally got a point, because behind the assorted stars, the same songwriting names keep cropping up. Max Martin, Greg Kurstin, Ryan Tedder – these are the new Diane Warrens, the new Burt Bacharachs. A lot of column ink has been devoted recently to confused think-pieces about Max Martin’s hegemony, but it shouldn’t come as a shock.
Ellie Goulding wants you to know that Delirium, her first full-length work in three years, is a big pop album, in opposition to what apparently amounted to small-to-medium format works Lights and Halcyon. There’s no denying that the narratives and emotions behind Goulding’s work have certainly always felt big — cinematic, even. A few genuine gems sprinkled throughout Delirium serve to support the bravado behind this claim.
With her 2010 debut Lights, Ellie Goulding instantly asserted herself as a solid mainstream artist while managing to retain a somewhat independent spirit. Despite having the backing of Polydor, it was a record that bristled with moody atmospherics not often seen in the Top 40. Perhaps it was something to do with the guitar-based beginnings of the album's material, or the fact Goulding was barely out of her teens when it was written.