U.K. pop star Ellie Goulding’s third album opens radiantly: two minutes of her 3D-operatic voice, accompanied by soft-focus strings and throw-pillow percussion, multi-tracked and lifting sky-high to show off every rainbow hue of a dazzling instrument. The track is called “Intro,” but its tone is more like a farewell, forlorn and ambiguous. And in a sense, Goulding is saying goodbye – leaving behind the EDM textures and Kate Bush art-folk pedigree of her music to this point as she attempts a full-scale embrace of mainstream dance pop.
On her last album, Halcyon, Goulding worked with Calvin Harris, Tinie Tempah and Jim Eliot – producers and writers with dance-music roots. Here she teams up with hitmakers like Ryan Tedder and Max Martin, a move that’s not unlike the country-to-pop transformation her pal Taylor Swift pulled off with 1989. On the Martin-produced hit “On My Mind,” Goulding’s big voice is compacted into a series of taut flares over clipped hi-hats and Police-like guitar smears. The sparkling Eighties confection “Around U” is similarly prim. For the most part, though, streamlined tracks like “Keep On Dancing” and “Something in the Way You Move” stay mindful of her rave-y side, whooshing but dark-tinted, gliding into shadow. The gauzy, house-y “Don’t Need Nobody” and “Devotion,” which angles from the techno club to the folk club in a matter of seconds, express that balance more pointedly.
The album’s most ambitious mash-up, “Holding On For Life,” written by Adele helpmate Greg Kurstin, opens as a gospel stomp, then oonches into a disco power-ballad, collapsing decades of music history into four minutes. The songwriting on Delirium doesn’t always feel worthy of her ambitions, but Goulding is technically peerless and versatile, maintaining her power and flare throughout and crushing every glassy jam she’s put in front of.