Welcome to Junk Mail, where a few Music Times staffers email back-and-forth about each week's biggest release throughout the work day. This week, Carolyn Menyes, Ryan Middleton, John Gonzalez and Lindsay Haddox chat about Ellie Gouldings new album, Delirium.
Ryan Middleton: Ellie Goulding has stated that she is trying to step away from indie and EDM to become a bonafide pop star. Her voice is among the most unique in pop music today, which has helped carry her through the Lights and Halycon album cycles. Now three years removed from Halycon and building on the success of the sultry "Love Me Like You Do." Goudling attempts to break out as a superstar with Delirium.
You guys think all of the booming production and hooks put her in the stratosphere of where she wants to be or did Goudling not do enough to become the big pop star she wants to be?
John Gonzalez: It's taken me a few listens and a quick revisit of her catalog to fully grasp this album and just who Ellie Goulding is in 2015. You're right Ryan, her voice is easily the most unique in the game. As such it was interesting to see her "try" to ditch her indie/EDM background in exchange for a more mainstream appeal. I say try because with her distinctly indie vocal style, and EDM's undeniable influence on mainstream, Delirium still plays much like her past work. The only difference is the writing is more transparent and the production has some subtle urban influences.
Album opener "Aftertaste" was a nice place to start and plays right into what we've gotten used to hear from her over the years. "Something In The Way You Move" and "Around U" also felt right on brand. Lead single "On My Mind" and "Codes" stood out as obvious attempts at a more mainstream sound. I don't hate them, but sans her unique vocals they are pretty standard and kind of blah. "We Can't Move To This" was the biggest stand out to me. A 112 sample on a pop album on 2015? Groundbreaking. Ha ha. All and all she's made a valid effort and pop stardom, there's definitely some hits. Lindsay what did you think?
Lindsay Haddox: Until now I never really listened to Ellie Goulding except for what was played on the radio. I understand what her goal is with this album, but I've always honestly felt that with her catchy beats and hooks that she was the prime example of a pop artist. After diving into her 22-song deluxe album Delirium and then re-listening to it I can definitely hear the mainstream route she was looking to take. However, like Ryan said she does have a very unique voice that sounds quite indie.
Goulding's album is filled with fun, catchy beats throughout the whole thing but I do not think that it did much for her whole straying away from EDM, when many of the songs have the heavier beats that they do. It feels as if with her crossover to becoming mainstream she tried to make an album where each song could become a single. I enjoyed the songs "Army" and "I Do What I Love" because they were some of the songs that weren't as similar sounding as others. I also really enjoyed how she opened with "Intro (Delirium)" which tied into "Aftertaste." I think that this album is filled with singles, which seems to be what her goal was if trying to become more mainstream and many I'm sure will be turned into hits.
However, I do wish that she would have switched up the tempo of the album throughout and not kept with songs with as heavy beats as she did.
Carolyn Menyes: It's a weird time for Ellie Goulding to try and move away from EDM music and into pop, because EDM is still inherently what pop music is in 2015. Plus, unlike her BFF Taylor Swift, Goulding is not quite at the point in her career where she can really dictate what she wants her sound to be, and thus, Delirium sounds like someone who wants to break out but can't quite just yet, whether that's because she's not allowed by a label or because she's too scared to break out of her shell.
Lindsay, you mentioned that this record sounds LOADED with singles, but I have to disagree. Goulding rolled out a fair number of songs leading up to the release of Delirium, including "Lost and Found" and "Army," and I couldn't even care enough about them to give them reviews. It's a personal thing, and I'll be totally transparent about that, but I find this record and Goulding as a whole to be deeply boring. She does keep everything very straight down the middle. Most of these songs have the same tempo, the same elements of production and her voice is unique, but it can play as a little sleepy, and that's the main emotion I get from this record.
Am I the only one totally bored by this record? I just feel like I need more innovation out of my pop in 2015, and I'm not getting it here.
RM: Yeah I do find it a little odd for her to try and go full pop now when other artists are trying to find outside influences to add to their pop music. With that in mind, even with some of the best songwriters and producers in Los Angeles and Stockholm like Max Martin, Joakim Berg, Ryan Tedder, Greg Kurstin and Savan Kotecha, she can't seem to fully ditch those indie and EDM influences. It might be a little jarring and less authentic if she completely ditched her past without creating at least a small bridge between them.
The production can be a quite similar with the same reverbed snare and kick drum finding its way into nearly half the songs, but when she does vary things up like on the 112 sample on "We Can't Move To This" or the slight UK influences with break beat on a few others, then it really shines. In terms of what has the chance for hits, the top half of Delirium seems to be loaded with the tracks that could get air play, but it almost feel like these tracks will flirt with being hits but will need some sort of outside influence, like a big remix or sync to really push them into the mainstream.
JG: Like you guys, I am a little indifferent about this album as well. I'm always frustrated when left of center acts take the plunge for the mainstream instead of continue for forge forward with new and innovative material. "Lights" still stand out as one of the more unique and exciting records to catch the mainstreams attention in recent years, as is "Anything Could Happen." I find myself not outwardly over Delirium, but not completely in love either.
We all keep going back to her voice which like it or love it is obviously what makes her unique and is the only redeeming quality to some of these records, but it also can get boring at times. I feel like I coasted through each listen, neither excited or upset. The tail end of the album is a bit sleepy, even though I found "I Do What I Love" entertaining for all the wrong reasons. It's so terrible that I had to listen to it three times. And can someone stop sending these people to Max Martin? Am I the only one that got like album vertigo and thought I had accidently stumbled into Demi Lovato's or Selena Gomez's recent albums?
LH: It seems that artists keep trying to re-brand themselves in some type of way nowadays and it is not something I totally understand. For someone who gets a lot of mainstream play, I just do not really understand Goulding's most recent decision with this album. I feel that she shouldn't be trying to re-brand herself, but instead trying to build on the talent that she already has. Also she has gotten a lot of radio play since coming to the scene, so I wish she wouldn't have been so focused on that through this. Goulding does well with what she has done, but this album felt that it dragged on.
We keep talking about how bland this album sounded and I feel like it's because Goulding never really switched up her sound during the 22 deluxe version of this album. This album seems all over the place with how the songs were placed on the album and with the songs that were chosen for it, like some of them just shouldn't have been on there.
Maybe if there were different elements in the music, especially in the instrumental, Goulding could have had something with this album, but it feels that she plays it quite safe. Nothing really changed from her previous sound on this album and it would have been interesting to see Goulding expand on her sound instead of trying to switch it up to the point that it really did nothing for her except for come off as a boring album.
CM: Ryan, you bring up the point that Goulding worked with some of the biggest hitmakers out there right now. Max Martin, Ryan Tedder, Greg Kurstin... they're the best at making consumable pop right now. What I think happened, then, is that Goulding became a little bit too central -- she lost the weirdness that helped her to be distinguishable. These songs are capable of being hits, but I'm missing an inherent Ellie Goulding-ness in a lot of them. That's what she was going for, or so it seems, but it sort of makes her less of a star on her own records. She's overshadowed by all of the other elements.
This is very clear by the inclusion of her early 2015 hit "Love Me Like You Do," which was tied to the release of Fifty Shades of Grey. Goulding soars on this track and she makes it really pretty, earnest and interesting. It stands out in its inclusion on Delirium because it's just so much better than anything else on this record.
The closest thing we get to something that interesting is the lead single "On My Mind." This song is a bit of a grower, but after a few listens, the lyrics are detailed and interesting, and that moment where she screams out "Wait!" is a nice little twist.
Her next single seems like it's going to be "Army." What do you guys think of those choices?
RM: I am not going to say as far as I was bored through this album, but the album is quite an easy listen. It has a wonderful continuity to it that can make some of the tracks easy to gloss over, but works better within the album format. It is much more top heavy, like a modern pop album to try and keep your attention to the end. I agree, Carolyn, that this album does lose a bit of that eccentric nature that has helped make Ellie Goulding one of those different pop stars. If she drives too hard at the middle, she may just get swallowed up and spit out a shell of herself in a few years trying to compete the behemoths of the genre.
"On My Mind" was a well chosen hit. It clearly appeals to the U.S. pop-radio market with the snare rolls, Police-like guitar plucks and great hook. I think they should have gone with "Codes" as the next single. It is more pop than "Army," which seems too much like a personal favorite of hers and could be too slow to do damage in the charts without some syncs.
JG: Well put, Ryan, that's exactly how this album feels. It isn't boring or exciting, it just kind of glides from track to track. I think that continuity come from her vocals and her involvement as a co-writer. I give her credit for still sounding like herself most of the time, except for "I Do What I Love" of course.
I also agree that "On My Mind" was probably the most ideal single on this project to aid in her pop crossover. I was telling Lindsay earlier that the album felt like an attempt to take what Coldplay and Rihanna did on "Princess Of China" and turn it into an album. That's ultimately the appeal Goulding is going for, and could eventually achieve with a better produced album.
To its credit, Delirium still has some pretty cool records that few others could have possibly pulled off, despite the overall sound being pretty much what everyone is doing. I mentioned "Something In The Way You Move" and "Around U" you earlier. "Keep On Dancin'" is pretty cool too. Basically the albums first couple tracks, like we again already mentioned. I don't know Ellie, I want to like it more, and parts of me do, but most of the song titles escape me even as I go into my fourth listen.
LH: This album definitely has some stand out songs, I'm a fan of "Army" and find that it is really a song you can relate to, so I'm excited to hear that is her next single. I do not feel as if Goulding has changed her sound, or gotten out of her comfort zone but she definitely will get radio play from this album. I think the reason I feel how I do about this album is because it does not seem that she has grown much as an artist and you can tell. She is definitely a talented artist, she just needs to find and understand her sound and the best way to create it.
I mentioned earlier how I liked that she tired her "Intro (Delirium)" into the song "Aftertaste" but she then decided to tie most of her album together in the same way. I too really want to like her, but this album all just feels drawn out. Also having a deluxe album with 22 songs that do not really have a reason for being there does not really make much sense. I do think that Goulding has enough material on here to keep her relevant enough until she does her next album and hopefully she is able to do something different in about a year or so.
CM: That is something we haven't talked about -- this album is LENGTHY! I think it could have used a little bit of editing. I get loving all 22 songs as an artist and not being able to part with any of them, but unless you're a ravenous Ellie Goulding fan, that's just a lot of material to sort through. Some of the fat on this record ("We Can't Move to This," "I Do What I Love," "Don't Panic") could have been left out to tighten this whole up.
Thematically, it felt like this record was building up to something big, with that dramatic intro and "Aftertaste" that you keep mentioning, Lindsay. But, at the end of the day, I just could not latch onto this record. Chalk it up to being underwhelmed and bored from this reviewer.
RM: Ellie Goulding went for a full on pop album with Delirium and almost hit it. She couldn't help but let a little of her indie and EDM backgrounds get caught up in this top-heavy and lengthy album. There are highlights like "On My Mind," "We Can't Move To This," "Codes" and "Aftertaste," which really set up the full LP and have the possibility to be strong singles ("On My Mind" is already quite a strong stand-along track). Ellie has made her attempt to center and lost a little of the weirdness along the way, her next step could determine where her career ends up.
JG: I can't knock Ellie Goulding for wanting to take her career to new heights. Despite an impressive debut and steady radio play over the last few years, she's still managed to fly relatively under the radar. People don't have the kind of invested interest in her that they do her homies Taylor Swift or Selena Gomez. Delirium was an attempt at diversifying her brand and even hyping up some of tabloid drama ("On My Mind" is totally about Ed Sheeran). It's a solid effort but doesn't fully play into her strengths and accidently highlights a sleepiness in her voice I wasn't aware of before. I hope the albums few stand-outs get the singles treatment and hope that she calls on a more dynamic team of collaborators for album number four to better highlight her unique voice and writing abilities.
LH: Delirium is filled with songs that flow from one to another and can make for the album to be a bit boring. The album was quite lengthy and very underwhelming like Carolyn said. For someone who is looking to make a move into the pop world this album is almost there, but still sounds a lot like the same Ellie Goulding. I am sure we will hear a few more of her songs on the radio as this album is very top heavy and starts off with a good amount of songs that could become singles.
Although this album did not really hit exactly where she wanted she still has time to make the move over to a full on pop star, it is just very dependent on the route she decides to take a a musician. It will definitely be interesting to see what she does after this album and with a unique voice like hers, I do hope she is able to figure out where she wants to take her career and builds on her talents.
CM: I wish that I could have come up with some more interesting takes on this album, but I couldn't quite bring myself to have any real thoughts on it. Ellie Goulding went from someone interesting and dynamic to somebody who is really quite dull and generic. I appluad Goulding for doing what she wants to do, but that doesn't mean I'll ever listen to this again.