Producer: Greg Kurstin, Ilya, Max Martin, Ali Payami
Released: November 6, 2015
I don’t really believe in the sentiment that a thing’s popularity is inversely proportional to how good that thing is, but when it comes to the music of Ellie Goulding, my enjoyment of her records seems to be directly related to the sales figures of the particular album. However the album sales have just been correlation rather than causation: I just found myself preferring the folktronica of her first album to the dubstep experimentation she did on her second album, which I in turn preferred to anything she released afterwards.With each release Goulding seems to venture further away from her comfort zone, which wouldn’t be a bad thing at all if it wasn’t so obvious that she’s also more and more out of her depth. Maybe her third full-length studio album Delirium could break the downward spiral?
At least initially, it certainly doesn’t seem so. After the dramatic intro piece the listener is treated to “Aftertaste”, a big and dramatic opening number, which encapsulates the album perfectly: the biggest strength is Goulding’s distinct vocals, which manages simultaneously appear stark as steel and fragile as glass; but apart from her literal voice, the song, and to a greater extent the whole album, lacks Goulding’s own voice. Every song on the album sounds like a track by another artist Goulding just happens to feature on. “Keep On Dancin’” features half-arsed, vaguely Middle Eastern elements that must be some sort of cruel mockery of prior collaborator Major Lazer, and the lazy whistle hook slapped on top of it all just makes the song even more of a mess. The verses of “Devotion” sounds like a scrapped Disclosure B-side and the closing track “Scream It Out” has an uncanny resemblance to the weaker tracks on Tove Lo’s debut album, sans all the references to sex and drugs. “Don’t Need Nobody” has an atrocious synth hook which Goulding tries to match with her singing. The atonal synth sound mixed together with Goulding’s nasal delivery forms a combination roughly as appealing as a big toe, a dark room, and a table leg. Then there’s “Lost and Found”, where she tries her best to mask her voice while singing, making a conscious choice to drop the one thing that kept the album from slipping into complete indistinguishability.
Not that the album is completely void of good cuts: for example, the lead single “On My Mind” starts with a 80s-influenced guitar riff and combines it successfully with a modern, jerking electronic beat, creating a juxtaposition that catches the listener off guard. The high point of the album is “Around U”, which in its vivid and ethereal production acts as a bittersweet reminder what she was capable of in her heyday. Goulding’s 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack contribution “Love Me Like You Do” is by no means great, but thanks to the subpar material surrounding it the song manages to shine as one of the better tracks on the record.
There is nothing wrong about an artist ‘selling out’, but upon entering the mainstream Goulding stumbles in the shoes too big for her, trips and hits her head on the door frame. The end result is Delirium: instead of bringing her own touch to the mix she settles for aping everyone else, making the end result bland and dull. As such the album is completely devoid of personality, disposable radiowave fodder to fill the time between the ads.