Liner Notes: Ellie Goulding's Wild & Exhaustive 'Delirium'

The only forlorn moment present on Delirium is right at the beginning. Operatic moans, thunderclaps of percussion, misted strings --- "Intro" is a grey and mournful wave goodbye to what Ellie Goulding used to be. Get a closer look at the portrait and you'll see Goulding's back turned, turned away from the artful pop-folk sketches and EDM-juiced statement pieces of her past, and sailing towards the sparkling pools of bass-heavy dance-pop.

Similar to Taylor Swift's switch from country to mainstream pop with 1989, Goulding's Delirium is also derived as a megaphone announcement to a new artistic temperament. Yet unlike Swift, Goulding's sound reversal isn't such a drastic act as the U.K. singer/songwriter didn't begin her career rooted in one core genre. Ever since her shimmering 2010 debut, Lights, Goulding and her music always had a sense of being something 'other' than the mere pop label it was often stamped with as it quaked with indie-electronica influence, these flourishes rounded out her material making it large, even cinematic in its scope. Her three-dimensional voice drew comparisons to the elasticity of Bjork and Kate Bush's prized vocal boxes, yet another element that gave her complete disassociation to 'those' pop stars, the plastic, pop-out pieces that were interchangeable and flighty. Never a Britney or a Katy she was.

Even wielding the pen Goulding has her Swifty BFF beat, listen to her chew on her pen cap for Lights and lend ear to the gothic irony and the technical nuances exhibited on 2012's soulful Halcyon (or Halcyon Days in later extended pressings), an album that did the unimaginable as it incorporated instrumental elements with the cellophane swathes of EDM. Low-key, Goulding was the 'art pop' of what Lady Gaga wanted to be, as her first efforts bent and shaped pop music into recognizable, but fresh new formats.

Now here we are with Delirium and we're gifted a collection of BIG songs. BIG excited, and forceful songs that pound out loud and vivacious. There are 16 of them (22 if you snatch up the deluxe edition) which is quite excessive for a dance-pop album, especially a dance-pop album that tends to liquefy into a monotonous throb as the album progresses. With such elephantine aesthetic, Goulding wants everybody to know that she has found the dance-pop promise land as the album is populated with thundering celebratory synths, percussion, and a guitar squeal or two, all fused together, crackling of 1980s influence, mirroring the era of where bigger was always deemed better.

Here lies Delirium's issue, the assumption that dance-pop doesn't deserve precision. That it should fan out like a peacock presents its feathers, that it should just be splashy, loud, and well, BIG as it can be. That's the genre's trickiness, it wants you to believe that it doesn't take much effort, that you should just throw out things and hope it sticks, but there are nuances that are pertinent to its structure, and well, Delirium isn't aware of such nuances. It thrives on trying to club you over the head to proclaim that Goulding is doing something bolder and more captivating with pop music, but being "bold" or "loud", or having all these embellishments doesn't a good dance-pop record make --- that is unless you have something to say, and well, Goulding isn't really saying much that we already haven't heard from other pop starlets of now.

What's a little odd though is that Goulding has assembled the right crew of dance-pop cultivators to push the pomp n' pop theme. Names like Ryan TedderGreg KurstinCarl FalkPeter Svensson, and even the most-well-known sultan of the pop sound --- Max Martin --- froth up on the credits list, and for all their credibility as pop music cultivators, they end up completely erasing Goulding out of the her own material at times. Jess Glynne needs to put out an A.P.B. for "Holding On For Life" as its a fugitive track from I Cry When I Laugh. "Lost and Found" is weak sauce Betty Who, while Klas Ã…hlund guides the pastel "Devotion", a blase rehash of what Robyn has already achieved --- and achieved at a much better degree.

Delirium's overall personality has Goulding oscillating in and out of different styles and personalities, fluctuating between being either coy and flirtatious or straight-up combative and brash. The zig and zag of that has Goulding losing her footing and fading into the background wall of sounds. "Love Me Like You Do", the ballad she contributed to the Fifty Shades Of Grey soundtrack, like its overwrought source piece, has been saturated into our psyches to where there is really no need for it to be present on this particular set, but it's still a great example of when Goulding is paired down, when she has a distinct focus on her voice and her sound, she really shines.

For these errors, all of Delirium isn't terribly sloshed, its still has some standing as Goulding does talk good game when she breaks fast into the crash waves of stellar opener, "Aftertaste", diving deep into its helter-skelter machinery. Same goes for "Codes" and "We Can't Move To This", which are both taunt thrills that hint back into those 'halcyon days' as does highlight, "Don't Panic" with its glitching structure, that is softened by ribbons of silken melodies. I can even appreciate the little odd whistle effect that threads through the chug of "Keep On Dancin'".

Goulding won't be a cornering Ciara anytime soon, but she lets her hips swing into the mirrorball groove of "Something In The Way You Move", which is screaming at the top of its lungs to be a single, and she bubbles and squeaks on "Around U" which squints at a fizzy-pop-meets-R&B vibe a la Mariah Carey, with Goulding even hitting into Mama Mimi's registers at times. I also particularly don't mind the much-disliked lead single, "On My Mind", as it bounces along licking its salty sarcastic tongue to call-out a pesky tattooed paramour who may or may not be Ed Sheeran. It's a cheeky, lite-funk song that feels more complete than some of the other numbers present --- it's just not that bad as everybody is making it out to be.

Electric bombast that is is, Delirium does glint of gems ("Codes", "Aftertaste", "Around U" and "Something In The Way You Move"...and yes, "On My Mind", ha!) that have me not wanting to slam the gavel down too harshly on it, in honesty, everything before "Love Me Like You Do" (well, sans "Holding On For Life") is solid. Still going for BIG doesn't mean you forfeit direction and nuance, that you abandon what works all in the rash effort to dive head first into the vast chilled waters of change. "Delirium" might be described as "wild excitement or ecstasy" but it also means "disturbed state of mind that provokes incoherence of thought and speech", with Goulding kneeling to uniformity the way she does throughout her third long player, the latter is more so fact than fable as she rolls off the assembly line, becoming just another manufactured plastic pop piece, interchangeable and flighty.

+ Delirium is available for purchase and download via iTunes, and for streaming via Spotify 
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