I gave a slight side-eye when Ellie Goulding hit big with Burn from Halcyon Days two years ago. The Ryan Tedder co-write was Ellie’s most plain-sounding single at that point, following mystifying and interesting productions like Anything Could Happen, Figure 8 and her North American breakthrough Lights. When the even-more successful 50 Shades Of Grey song Love Me Like You Do arrived, I should have known what to expect.
But I remained in denial.
On My Mind, the first single preceding her third album Delirium, could have been written for Rihanna‘s song pile, if not for the suggestion of it being a response to Ed Sheeran‘s Don’t, despite Ellie’s denial. It makes sense why it was the first single. It’s uber catchy and it got people speculating. A tip from Taylor perhaps? But beyond the repetitive chorus and earworm of a hook, that’s about all the track has to offer. By the second verse, the transition to simplicity is complete: “wait…” – something big is coming! “I could have really liked you.” Oh.
Even Ellie’s crystalline voice has difficulty shining through the determined melody, and that becomes the constant issue on the record. Her voice was always supported by intricate and sometimes fascinating production with the help of producers like Jim Eliot (Kylie Minogue, Foxes) and Mike Spencer (Jamiroquai, Rudimental), who helped made Halcyon shine. With Delirium, she collaborated with the who’s who of hit pop producers and co-writers, including Greg Kurstin (Sia, Pink, Kelly Clarkson) and Max Martin (Katy Perry, Taylor Swift), and the result is primarily an absence of identity.
If Ellie’s defence, she set out to make a big pop album and she did just that. Around U is an irresistibly shimmering Europop gem straight out of the year 2000; Keep On Dancin’ is as lush as it is seductive; Don’t Panic‘s warm melody would fit Tegan & Sara‘s Heartthrob (Kurstin produced both); and Army, as the sole ballad, builds up to a satisfying and mighty finish.
There’s really nothing on Delirium to dislike. It’s great pop music. So is there even a problem?
Delirium is poised to be the album that finally makes Ellie Goulding a household name. Even with half a dozen legit hits under her belt, Ellie still doesn’t have the name-recognition as many of her contemporaries, despite having released some of the best pop music this decade.
But as big as Ellie says the songs are, they’re still Davids to Halcyon‘s Goliaths – except in this case Goliath is the underdog. There’s no sonic adventure or airy atmosphere. There’s nothing as captivating as My Blood or Hanging On. Nothing to dig deep into the way Figure 8 or Only You allowed you to get complete submersed. Its production makes Burn blaze in comparison.
So it’s great pop music. But that’s it.
As long as she doesn’t stay in the plain lane for the long term, Delirium was her next logical step. And hopefully once it succeeds, she can slay with the magic that won us over – if she chooses. Besides, it’s still likely to be one of my go-to pop albums for the next year and I can almost guarantee I will sing with and enjoy every song on it, but I’ll be damned if I’m not reminded every time of the disappointment that it’s still a step down.
1. Intro (Delirium)
3. Something In The Way You Move
4. Keep On Dancin’
5. On My Mind
6. Around U
8. Holding On For Life
9. Love Me Like You Do
10. Don’t Need Nobody
11. Don’t Panic
12. We Can’t Move To This
14. Lost And Found
16. Scream It Out