When The Weeknd spoke of ditching his regular route and wanting to create the best pop album he could, we were ….. disappointed. When Ellie Goulding says the same thing about album number three, roping in some of the same folk The Weeknd did in search of hits, we were ….. confused. Goudling wants to go pop? The singer behind ‘Burn’ and ‘Anything Could Happen’? How much more pop can she really get? The answer, surprisingly, is quite a bit.
Since Halcyon three years ago, she’s broken up with Skrillex and jumped on tracks with Calvin Harris, DJ Fresh and Major Lazer, and her upcoming interpretation of “pop” was anyone’s guess. Those tracks appear here as Deluxe Edition additions only, as does the much-vaunted collaboration with Disclosure. The lengthy sixteen-track standard album is split – almost fifty-fifty – between prolific producers Max Martin and Greg Kurstin, and these guys have absolutely brought their A-Game. In fact, there hasn’t been such a strong example of a ‘Producer’s Album’ since Britney dropped Femme Fatale. If it wasn’t for Goulding’s unique vibrato and delivery, you feel these tracks could’ve been dished out to just about anyone.
Perhaps incorrectly, we associate Goulding with being a bit of a ballad-queen, but Delirium will course-correct that, as this is the most banger-centric album this side of Beyonce’s B’Day – you won’t even get to a mid-tempo until ‘Love Me Like You Do’, nine tracks in. While we’ve all heard the Ed Sheeran-baiting ‘On My Mind’ by now, but once you hear opening song ‘Aftertaste’, quite literally one of the catchiest songs of the year, it seems a bizarre oversight not to be picked as the opening salvo. Out of the sixteen tracks, twelve of them could make for great single choices, with top tier picks going to ‘Keep On Dancin’’ thanks to Ryan Tedder’s out-of-his-wheelhouse production calling to mind Adam Lambert’s recently underappreciated ‘Ghosttown’, or ‘We Can’t Move To This’ which involves some heavy brass and a weird grime/samba (Grimba?) hybrid beat.
For an album so heavily invested in love – and it appears that Goulding is incapable of singing about a single different topic – things do eventually slow down a little on the tail end, but she still never quite gives in to a full-on ballad mode. The likes of ‘Army’ (which, ironically, kinda sounds like it could have been an Ed Sheeran song) and ‘Lost And Found’ (shades of Florence & The Machine) never stop the album dead, replacing the drums and synths with gentle guitars and tinkling pianos, but keeps the tempo clocking over.
There’s barely a dud to be found throughout, and while some songs will inevitably become skip-worthy – ‘Around U’ jars for being a little too jauntily positive, not melding with the steel and glass atmosphere the rest of the album’s production possesses, and ‘Devotion’ falls back on the EDM-lite vibe from Halcyon – it’s hard to argue with the quality control here. Less homogenised that Swift’s 1989, and less scattershot than Lovato’s Confident, Goulding’s Delirium has done a damn sight better than The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind The Madness at attempting to make the best pop album ever. How much of that compliment should be directed at Goulding herself though is up for debate.