Lorde ‘Melodrama’ – Review

10 Jul

The classic disco acts of the 1970s had two aims, that often played out simultaneously: to make you dance and make you cry. This is a duality that Lorde understands explicitly. Her sophomore album ‘Melodrama’ references the act of dancing seven times, in a variety of contexts: literally ‘…on the light up floor’), metaphorically(‘…with the truth’), cryptically (‘…with all the heartache’) and as a unifying act ‘…with us’). Meanwhile the beats provided by a range of producers (including Lorde herself) are slinky and seductive, drawing you to either an imagined or real dance floor. It’s no surprise that this week she described the album as her thesis on the subject. Crying is mentioned just a couple of times, but the record physically moves you to tears at several crucial points. The dramatic coda of ‘Hard Feelings’ teases out unanticipated emotion from the line ‘I still remember how we’d drift buying groceries, how you’d dance for me/I’ll start letting go of little things till I’m so far away from you’. Her description of dancing with an imaginary companion on ‘Liability’ is equally evocative.

Dancing and crying are two things teenagers spend a lot of time doing, and this is an album that can be precisely called a coming of age record. Written during the dreg end of her teenage years, ‘Melodrama’ draws upon a house party and a break up as chief sources of inspiration. Her debut ‘Pure Heroine’ was a hook heavy, addictive record that inevitably saw the precocious 16 year old over reaching at a range of weighty subjects that were sometimes beyond her years. The best moments were the ones that drew from the most personal and universal emotions – the small town angst that informed ‘Team’, the growing pains of ‘Ribs’. On ‘Melodrama’ she draws exclusively from this personal experience, using a narrower palette to much greater effect.

‘Melodrama’ bests ‘Pure Heroine’ in almost every sense. Fundamentally Lorde’s writing is more ambitious, assured and confident, both in what she says and how she chooses to say it. Her style of singing is multifaceted – she sounds vulnerable one minute and on the warpath the next. Crucially, she is now living the subject matter rather than just commenting on or observing. The pain is localised and she is able to convey her emotion with clear control of mood and tone, which reflects in the music as well as the lyrics..

The production on ‘Pure Heroine’ was distinctively minimalist, which rendered key tracks like ‘Royals’ and ‘Tennis Court’ as sharp and unnerving, but made the less memorable final third a bit lacking. The tone shifts far more frequently on ‘Melodrama’, meaning that it keeps your attention from start to finish. Piano ballads like ‘Liability’ and ‘Writer in the Dark’ are placed carefully between four to the floor anthems and psychedelic pop nuggets. Occasionally Lorde flies a little too close to the sun; for example the blatant Kate Bush-isms in the chorus of the aforementioned ‘Writer in the Dark’ spoil what is otherwise a nuanced and daring song. For the most part though Lorde has produced an irresistible pop record that sounds like nobody else out there. Consider Max Martin’s response to lead single ‘Green Light’, which he described as ‘incorrect pop’. He meant it as a sort of back handed compliment.

The original French definition of melodrama was of ‘a romantic and sensational dramatic piece with a happy ending’. Lorde is certainly embracing romance and sensationalism in the final song ‘Perfect Places’ (‘if they keep telling me where to go, I’ll blow my brains out to the radio’) but it’s not really a happy ending – more a final epiphany. Life is a futile quest for perfect places that we are promised but will never arrive at. The album’s title ‘Melodrama’ hints at this realisation and also her perfectly timed self awareness that doubles as a defence mechanism. She calls out herself, and her complexities, before anyone else can. She does it throughout the album(most brilliantly on ‘Liability’). Teenage girls are frequently labelled as melodramatic because it’s the easiest and most efficient put-down at hand. Here Lorde goes some way to reclaim the tag for her own generation – not in a self defeating way but as an acceptance that an embrace of heightened emotion is a necessity for surviving your teenage years. It’s amazing that Lorde has the emotional intelligence to realise this at such a young age, and document that realisation on such a vibrant and dynamic record.




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