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.
Her follow-up Halcyon was often similarly slower paced, pushing in interesting, more epic directions with the stately gloom of My Blood and the symphonic swell of Explosions, while still delivering the effervescent X Factor staple Anything Could Happen.
Delirium has been described by Goulding as an experimental “big pop album” and it certainly is big: the standard edition weighs in with 16 tracks and the deluxe a positively indulgent 22. All the better, presumably, to be plundered for hit singles, and there are some likely candidates.
Aside from the grandiose closer Scream It Out, produced by Halcyon collaborator Jim Eliot, Goulding has chosen to work almost exclusively here with such writing and production titans of current chart pop as Max Martin (Taylor Swift’s unassailable Blank Space, The Weeknd’s Can’t Feel My Face) and Greg Kurstin (Sia’s Chandelier, Adele’s chart-trampling Hello).
Martin’s touch is palpable on the lush R&B of Codes (featuring that omnipresent shout of “HEY!” that’s fast becoming the Wilhelm scream of smart, 20-teens pop) and On My Mind, a distant cousin of The Police‘s Message In A Bottle reconfigured with deep bass drops. Kurstin – once of slick ’80s pop-loving duo The Bird And The Bee – meanwhile is evident on the stomping gospel meets piano-led house of Holding On For Life and the superb Don’t Panic and Something In The Way You Move, all glistening synths and gated toms.
Goulding’s unmistakeable voice still cuts through however, and some of the best moments – the ethereal Intro that heralds the strident, clattering disco of Aftertaste, or Army’s ode to the strength of friendship, whose acoustic guitars mark a sharp tonal contrast continued by Lost And Found, initially worryingly Mumfordian, later a Haim-alike take on Mike Oldfield’s Moonlight Shadow – are all hers, regardless of the hands on the faders.
Although there’s arguably not a lot of depth to the songs, which mostly revolve around relationship struggles, the only real fault with Delirium – tediously sexualised cover art aside – is nothing a little pruning wouldn’t put right. Love Me Like You Do seems otiose, having surely earned its keep on the soundtrack to the sickly supermarket S&M of Fifty Shades Of Grey, while the anodyne Around U and the UK garage stylings of Devotion could easily be jettisoned, lessening the stylistically jumbled, overlong effect. Ultimately, though, Goulding’s experiment with carefully crafted but impactful Big Pop was a success.