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British Singer Ellie Goulding Strikes An Inventive Chord With 'Delirium'


This is FRESH AIR. Our rock critic, Ken Tucker, has a review of a new album by Ellie Goulding, a 29-year-old British singer who's been much more popular in the U.K. than here. She first became known the electronic dance music genre. But Ken says her new album, "Delirium," represents a shift into mainstream pop and hopefully a bigger U.S. following.


ELLIE GOULDING: (Singing) You're the light, you're the night, you're the color of my blood. You're the cure, you're the pain, you're the only thing I want to touch. Never knew that it could mean so much - so much. You're the fear, I don't care...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Chances are, you may know that song, "Love Me Like You Do," more readily than you know its singer, Ellie Goulding. The song appeared on the "50 Shades Of Grey" soundtrack album and is probably the British singer's most well-known work in America thus far. Goulding specializes in singing about romantic yearning in a clear voice with crisp enunciation. It's a vocal style that has enabled her to stand out when what she was making was primarily beat-dominated dance music. This time around, she's going for something different.


GOULDING: (Singing) Got to love this field and the cherry sky under blossom clouds though it's late July. You don't even try, still you look so cool - like a cover boy when you light the moon. Near the countryside...

TUCKER: That's "Lost And Found," another song from "Delirium," her new album. Goulding has said of "Delirium," part of me used this album as an experiment to make a big pop album. She made her initial splash overseas by combining EDM - electronic dance music - with tremulous folk-music vocalizing. On the new album, she's placed her faith in producers like Max Martin and Greg Kursten - pop masterminds who've designed hits for people like Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson and Pink. The result for Goulding is frequently startling in a good way. Listen to the fast, jittery song called "Around You" - unlike anything she's ever done.


GOULDING: (Singing) I just want to be around you. Is that too much ask? I just want to be around you. Is that too much to ask? When I look into your eyes, boy, I'm feeling delirious. Don't you know this is serious. I'm sticking to you like glue. I only see you now and then, but I know we could have it all because before I was cynical. Baby you were just cool. I just want to be around you. Is that too much to ask? Don't tell me I'm wrong...

TUCKER: Goulding sings with a lot of range, and frequently on "Delirium," her producers deploy that range by multi-tracking her vocals, recorded in various registers. One of the ways her move toward pop music manifests itself here is in the subject matter of the songs. She doesn't always stick with tunes about loving and losing love. Sometimes, she revs up an anthem of reassurance, like this one, "Don't Panic."


GOULDING: (Singing) Bite down on your lip, take another sip. Don't panic. Stop checking your phone, looking for the answers. Don't panic. Mind running obsessed, feeling paralyzed. Don't panic. Let me watch you undress, fall into the night. Yeah, we change, and we change, and we feel so lost, and we don't know who we are. Yeah we break, and we break, and we just can't stop so we just keep breaking hearts. Why you want to ruin a good thing? Can we take it back to the start? When love's not playing out like the movies, it doesn't mean it's falling apart. Don't panic. Yeah, don't panic. Yeah, been shy before...

TUCKER: There's a trap for any performer placing his or her voice in the service of grand pop productions like the ones Max Martin and others have designed for Goulding here. The singer can get lost in the vastness of the soundscapes that have been created to make her seem all-seeing, all-knowing. Then, too, you don't title an album "Delirium" without recognizing you're prizing mind-clouding passion over serious, rational thought. But each time I listen to this album, I hear Ellie Goulding's phrasing - the sharp precision of her tone is the guiding factor in any given song. Her experiment, as she likes to call it, was worth the risk. It pays off with fresh inventiveness.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed Ellie Golding's album, "Delirium."


GROSS: Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, a thousand naked strangers. I'll talk with former paramedic Kevin Hazzard about his nearly 10 years answering 911 calls in an ambulance treating the sick and injured in Atlanta. He writes that much more than the medicine, what fascinated him was the strange world he's accidentally stumbled upon. Hope you can join us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.