Ellie Goulding makes pure pop in ‘Delirium’

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Emerging from the dark, haunting imagery shrouding her second album Halcyon Days, Ellie Goulding steps into the light with a pastel-toned, chart-ready new sound for 2015. “A part of me views this album as an experiment — to make a big pop album,” Goulding explained in the press release announcing her new album Delirium.  

And Goulding accomplishes exactly that ambition. Delirium is incredibly polished, anthemic and brimming with infectious dance hooks. Boasting the chart-topping “Love Me Like You Do” as its defining framework, the album holds the songwriting prowess and energy to propel it to the level of pop perfection.

The epitome of Goulding’s sleek new pop sound is lead single “On My Mind.” The delightfully catchy song is certain to stick in your mind, bursting with energy and ear-candy hooks. Goulding delivers lyrics about a drunken hookup smartly, pausing, “Wait,I could’ve really liked you,” as if she’s actually thinking out loud to the listener.

In “Keep On Dancin’,” Goulding experiments with the club-smashing dance vibe that’s been very popular in the mainstream lately. A slightly darker moment than the rest of Delirium, a minimalist dance beat and brooding atmospheric synths tastefully build to a whistled hook. Goulding’s voice swirls over the self-affirming dance track, sounding blase as she declares, “I just keep on dancing.”

Moments of experimentation are everywhere on the album. “Around U” features a sugary sweet, laid-back vibe; “Holding On For Life” opens with a faux gospel chorus and jazzy piano chords; “Don’t Need Nobody” includes vocal effects that manipulate Goulding’s voice to sound like an urgent siren; “We Can’t Move to This” samples vocals from a song by 112.

As she tosses off the heft and brooding intensity of Halcyon Days, however, Goulding loses some of the heart-wrenching emotion that used to make her music so hypnotic. Her quest to craft a grandiose pop album brings with it a variety of sonic nuance, but we miss a little bit of her fresh-faced rawness. Fortunately, Goulding seems to regain her endearing honesty for a moment on “Army,” a sweet ballad dedicated to her best friend. Built upon an acoustic guitar riff, the song evokes warm and fuzzing feelings as it develops into a full-on, sing-along anthem.

Where she fails to connect emotionally on Delirium, Goulding makes up for it with addictive hooks, sleek and sparse production and just the right degree of innovation. The songs may be lighter in flavor, but Goulding’s ability to make mainstream pop sound complex and nuanced is where her maturity as a songwriter lies.

Madeline Wells covers music. Contact her at [email protected].