When she first erupted onto the music scene with “Lights” and “Starry Eyed”, Ellie Goulding was the ballad-singing enchantress with an angelic voice and great storytelling skills in her music. Now, on her third album, and with an arsenal of chart-topping hits, she still retains the impeccable voice and narrative technique, but in an entirely different medium: big pop and dance tracks. Nowadays, it seems like it has become the obvious transition for artists to gravitate towards making more “pop” music; we have seen it with The Weeknd, Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato and more artists, who started out in very different areas of the music scene. Unfortunately, however, many of these artists have lost their original sound and what attracted us to them in the process. When introducing Delirium to the world, Goulding introduced her record as “an experiment,” as she is making a “big pop album” that would be “on another level” in comparison to her previous material. Personally, I believe that she has done just that, and succeeded in not losing herself within this new realm of music.
While Halcyon, her sophomore album, was a dark collection of club synth-pop and soulful ballads, Delirium is confidently standing right in the middle of the pop arena. Moreover, while Halcyon was more of a break-up album that was revengeful and somber, Delirium is a mature redemption of sorts that moves past the relationship in Halcyon, with Goulding addressing the common issues faced in relationships without the naïveté and immaturity that is usually found in pop records. While listening to the album, it is hard to ignore the influence of the hard-hitting pop producers, such as Max Martin, Ryan Tedder and Greg Kurstin, that worked on it behind the scenes. You can hear the familiar traces and gushing vocals of Taylor Swift’s “Style”, the rhythm of the Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face”, the hook of Adam Lambert’s “Ghost Town” – however, do not automatically assume that this is a problem. These similarities are just part of the shell of the song that cannot be successful without the magnetism and the talent of certain artists, ones like Goulding, who can interpret these beats in their own way, add their spins to it and change them to fit their style perfectly. When it comes to Delirium, even though there is this obvious influence from mainstream pop, Goulding still manages to remain true to the dance parts of her roots with songs like “Don’t Need Nobody” and “Devotion,” and her signature vibrato makes even the most pop-influenced tracks very much her own, with her personality being magnified to new levels.
My favorite thing about this album is its adult sophistication and maturity that does not exaggerate what love is all about; it is more emotionally tangible and relatable. The most sass we see from Goulding is on “On My Mind,” when she sings “you wanted my heart but I just liked your tattoos.” Other than that, she is not shaking off haters, mourning a same old love, or hiding her summer flings from her mother. She is upfront about her demands, and these demands themselves are more realistic and mature than most of what we see on the pop scene nowadays. For example, even though in “Codes” she flirtatiously sings that “we got other things we can do with our time,” she is very clear about what she wants: can we please put a label on what is happening here? In “Don’t Panic,” she is down-to-earth about the difficulties of the relationship while realizing that there are ups and downs, that this relationship does not have to be perfect.
Some might argue that the main problem with Delirium is its length, and to be fair, it is quite a large record, with 16 tracks in its shortest form and some deluxe versions being 25 tracks. However, I find it quite endearing and impressive that the album is stuffed so full of songs she could not let go of because she liked them so much, and if they were sung by anyone else, the album would definitely fall flat. Even though pop records are usually more concise, Ellie Goulding challenges that, with consistent strong tracks that showcase her unique voice that is both a vessel for the song’s story but also an instrument, especially with her open-armed acceptance of electronic music that allows her to manipulate her vibrato into mind-blowing sounds. This is the clearest in the “Intro”, whose vocals deliver her signature haunting harmonies over quite simple instruments, and then fades seamlessly into “Aftertaste”, the second track, which is more fun and upbeat. In “We Can’t Move To This”, one of my personal favorites, she stretches, shrinks and layers her voice in ways that only she can, building a tension that is finally released in the chorus. Interestingly, she also has an almost rap-like flow on some of the tracks, most notably “On My Mind” and “Don’t Need Nobody”, also mixing in elements of hip-hop and EDM, allowing these hybrid tracks to emerge and appeal to different audiences.
This record was Ellie Goulding’s self-discovery, with lyrics that are straightforward and that cut through the bullshit of the figurative language we usually encounter, going straight for the truth, while still managing to be upbeat and energetic. While some of us might long for the intricacies of Halcyon, it is obvious that Goulding not only no longer needs to rely on metaphor in her songs, but has moved on from that dark period of her life to a happier place and started a new chapter. Congratulations to her for managing to move fully to the pop arena without sacrificing any bit of herself, and I cannot wait to see her performing them live.