Since the beginning of Ellie Goulding’s career, there’s been a pop sensibility to her music: Despite her roots in folk music, there was an electronic sheen to it that sold it as something slightly less left of field. When the decidedly increased pop sound of the single Lights hit it big in the US, though, her fate was sealed. From the alternative pop sound of Halcyon to the EDM flavour of its rerelease, it’s no surprise that she eventually broke into a more familiar pop sound; not so much worse than what came before, but now lacking the distinct charm that won over her earliest fans.
Delirium initially shines bright, packing single-worthy material into every space. While On My Mind and Something In the Way You Move have been tiding fans over with their radio-perfected sounds in the pre-release period, the new tracks find other ways to stand out. The Friendly Fires-style dance-punk of Aftertaste opens the album with a level of energy that captures your attention beyond the singles’ simple melodies, while Around U channels Goulding’s bubblegum pop side, akin to Goodness Gracious from Halcyon Days with less of a Passion Pit vibe. The initially strongest song is Codes, taking on a dark skittering style of synth rather than the common brighter pop sound, providing a stronger backing that carries the song and gives it a stronger radio sound.
Strangely enough, it’s when the album reaches Love Me Like You Do, her biggest single to date, that it enters a slump. The interesting arrangements from songs like the electronic gospel fusion of Holding On For Life are replaced with the safe 80s pop of Don’t Panic and the trap electronica of Don’t Need Nobody, lacking any spark that truly ties them to Goulding’s identity as a musician; this is especially true of the synth ballad Army, which could have used folk elements to give it more flavour but opted for a more obvious route instead.
Devotion tries to play with folk elements, but instead mixes them with EDM, making for an awkward combination that doesn’t quite work as well as intended, with the beats being a little too heavy and complex to meld with the folk elements. The album’s truly successful folk track is Lost And Found, one of two songs in the later half that truly works, with its folktronica sound hearkening back to earlier Goulding material, which should please original fans. We Can’t Move To This is the other success of the second half, with its bouncy beat and brass-like melodies standing out among the more traditional productions.
As Goulding’s attempt to make a major pop album, the result has its fair share of successful productions as well those lacking a certain personal spark to truly capture your attention. The first half is truly strong, packing a number of tracks in styles that suit Goulding’s vocals perfectly, especially in the cases of Codes and Around U. The attempt to pack the album full of quality pop tracks is undermined by a filler-stuffed second half, though, which turns what could have been a glowing ten track album into a confusing sixteen track one. Goulding carries the potential to create great pop music, but Delirium plays it safe far too often to show off her skills.