This album puts me in a slightly awkward position – wherever possible, I like to review the “official” version, but for reasons best known to themselves, Delerium completely reshuffled their 2000 album Poem for its UK release the following year, and ended up with a totally different track listing. It’s difficult to know which the “right” version is, but since the UK version is what I have, we’ll go with that.
Hot on the heels of the massive hit single Silence from the previous album Karma, Delerium already had their next album Poem ready, and obviously decided to go ahead with releasing that instead of messing around with its predecessor. Since Delerium single versions rarely bear any particular resemblance to the album versions, there’s a lot of logic in this, but it’s a slight shame that Karma missed out on all the fun.
But first up here is the second track on the US version, Innocente (Falling in Love), which features Leigh Nash of Sixpence None the Richer on vocals. Apart from Silence, this was the main single for this album, and rightfully so – it’s a great song.
Dance and electronic stalwart vocalist Kirsty Hawkshaw turns up next, for the lovely Nature’s Kingdom, a semi-acoustic piece with a typically exceptional vocal performance. Delerium fans tend to be ultra-loyal to their earlier ambient and industrial material, but with songs as good as this it’s difficult to see why.
Only a couple of albums into this phase of their career, they had however already carved themselves a very particular niche, which Daylight breaks rather nicely. It was already over a decade since their first album, with sometimes several albums a year, but they had never actually worked with a male vocalist before. Some might not see this as a problem, but I think it’s a shame, and despite apparently looking very scary, Matthew Sweet delivers a fantastic vocal performance on a great song here. The recent compilation Rarities & B-Sides revealed that this was intended as a single, and it’s a great shame that never happened.
In the end, the only other single was Underwater, with Rani Kamal on vocals. It’s a great song, but for their 2004 Best Of compilation Delerium opted for Above & Beyond‘s remix version which headed up the single, and rightfully so – it’s a lot better. It wouldn’t have fitted on the album in the slightest, though – the focus here is on chilled out, ethereal, mystic music.
The first half of this collection concludes with Fallen Icons, another exquisite song. If I had to pick a favourite Delerium album, though, despite how good the songs on here are, it probably wouldn’t be this one. On Chimera (2003), the mix of songs and vocalists is generally better if you’re looking for a “pop” way into their sound, whereas Karma (1997) is undoubtedly the pinnacle of their chanty sound.
This has plenty to offer, though, as Aria, a collaboration with Mediæval Bæbes aptly proves. As with a lot of the songs on here, I’ve no idea what they’re actually singing about, but I’m not sure that matters enormously in this instance – it’s still a great song.
The same is true of Myth, which after a couple of minutes of introduction eventually builds into an exceptional piece of music. Jennifer Stevens‘s vocals are exquisite, particularly in the crescendo of the chorus. It’s really hard to fault something like this.
The feeling on here is very much one of a compilation, as the potential hit singles come thing and fast, such as Inner Sanctum, which was just a bonus track originally, although it fits perfectly on here – it’s actually difficult to imagine Poem without this song. Unless you think the question “why is eternity forever?” is perhaps a slightly silly one, that is. Then the deliciously named A Poem for Byzantium follows, one of the catchier tracks on here, another semi-acoustic piece with an excellent vocal performance.
You might be forgiven for thinking that the new sound of Delerium is pretty much set by this point, but if so Amongst the Ruins will come as a bit of a surprise, taking you very much back to the older sound of the group and reminding you that they still have that side too. Commerical success may have taken them in a very different direction, but they’re still the same people.
So Poem is a slightly schizophrenic album at times, and it’s far from perfect, but it does have a lot to offer in the way of catchy, chilled out, electronic pop songs. As is so often the case, approach it with an open mind, and it has plenty to offer.
You can still find the European version of Poem on regular release in places such as this one. Tread a little carefully if this is what you’re looking for, as the US release is available too in some formats.