Saturday, July 26, 2008

Album Review: Delta Goodrem - Delta (4/5)

Few Americans have heard of her, but in Australia, Delta Goodrem is a chart powerhouse. There she's scored eight #1 hits this decade--more than any other artist. She's also had a few top 5 hits in the UK. Like many Australian pop singers, she got her start on soap opera Neighbours, although few others own lives mirrored a television melodrama the way Delta's has. Following the successful release of her 2003 debut album, Innocent Eyes, Delta, at only 18, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma cancer, putting on hold efforts for a further global launch. She recovered quickly though, releasing her second album, Mistaken Identity, a year later, only to then become embroiled in a tabloid backlash for her relationship with former Westlife singer Brian McFadden, who, at the time was married to former Atomic Kitten member Kerry Katona.

Four years later now, Delta has put those demons behind her (we hope), and has readied a remarkable new album, her best yet. Delta opens with one of my favorite songs to come along this year. "Believe Again" is a beautifully crafted power pop ballad in the grand tradition of songs like Robbie Williams' "Angels" or Celine Dion's "It's All Coming Back to Me Now." The dramatic single opens quietly with a full orchestra overture, building gradually to the first chorus with Delta's breathy vocals, piano, percussion, guitar, woodwinds, and drums. And it only gets bigger from there (a male chorale backs her during the bridge). Delta showed a willingness to do singles like this with 2004's Guy Chambers-penned "Out of the Blue"--another personal favorite--and this is a worthy successor. Check out the silly video too, where Delta rises from the primordial soup while geometric stone forms rotate above the ground (dramatic pop songs deserve ridiculous videos, it just has to be that way).

First single "In This Life" has a more traditional format and nicely showcases Delta's powerful pipes, holding her own against the wall of sound created by the layers of piano, electric guitar, and drums. Full on drama isn't her only mode of operation though. Sweet "Possessionless" thins out the accompanyment a bit, although Delta's signature piano remains among the mix of acoustic instruments. "Born to Try," her first single from 2003 makes a cameo here on the U.S. version, bumping "The Guardian" from the set. This is a regrettable omission, one I hope is corrected with the forthcoming UK release, as "The Guardian" is a fantastic song--one of the album's best (and who needs to hear "Born to Try" again?).

"Bare Hands" has a vaguely R&B arrangement, with pumped up bass and synths added to the piano and guitar mix. Despite that, this is actually the most traditionally Delta Goodrem sounding song so far. Piano and guitar ballad "God Laughs" follows, and then "You Will Only Break My Heart," a real treat. It's much more upbeat than we're used to hearing from Delta, backed with a bit of reggae sway. With this, and tracks like the country-influenced "Woman," Delta shows she has more range than your average singer. "Brave Face" sounds at first like it isn't going to be very remarkable until you the great chorus, which completely makes the song.

Ballad "I Can't Break It to My Heart" is another great vocal showcase for Delta's voice. She has a great deal of control, singing effectively when she's quiet and belting out the chorus. And refreshingly, she stays away from the melismatic acrobatics that so many of her contemporaries mistake for "good" singing. "One Day," one of the six tracks co-written by boyfriend McFadden, is another standout--a laid back, guitar-driven piece of modern pop. "Angels in the Room" quietly closes the album.

If there was any doubt, the dramatic orchestra- and piano- backed power pop of Delta cements Goodrem as the new Celine Dion. She even has Celine's penchant for odd lyrics: "All the things that I've collected, stones and shells, every word in every book upon my shelf, only form a brief description of myself; but they don't define who I am, I don't think anything can" she sings in "Possessionless," where she declares that her "naked body" is all she has for her man. Racy? A bit. Ridiculous? For sure, but power pop has never been known for its lyrical meaning. Delta is blessed with a creative team of producers and songwriters that have created a diverse collection of pop songs that aptly showcase her as a singer that deserves the attention she gets (and hopes to get finally in the U.S.).

Best: Believe Again, In This Life, You Will Only Break My Heart, Woman, God Laughs


J.Mensah said...

Hey, i'm nearly done doing my 100 greatest albums of this decade and last and i'm having difficulty desiding whats #1, if you had done it what album would u put at #1

ww_adh said...

Probably Kylie Minogue's Fever. It's the best pure dance pop album ever made--Just the right blend of melody, style and sass. Other top contenders would be Madonna's Music, Radiohead's In Rainbows, Coldplay's A Rush of Blood to the Head, Amy Winehouses' Back to Black.