This week, we are going to focus on Melodrama, the latest album from 20-year old sensation Lorde (not to be confused with the Icelandic bog beasts performing under a similar moniker), real name Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor. Her 2013 debut album Pure Heroine entered the top ten in almost every country in which it charted and lead single Royals hit number one in the US and the UK. Although we have not travelled far alphabetically from last week's featured artist London Grammar, geographically we could not have gone much further. Lorde was born and raised in Auckland in New Zealand. Yes, this is music from the land of hobbits, dragons and ringwraiths – the influence on Lorde's songs is, to put it mildly, non-existent.
That's not to say that Lorde hasn't picked up on some of Tolkien's gift for weaving a yarn. Whilst not being a concept album, there is a very clear narrative to Melodrama and it operates on three different levels. The first and most obvious is an examination of a relationship that begins euphorically and ends in solemnity. The second is a condensation of that relationship down into a recurring house party metaphor – the promise at the beginning of the night culminating in the climactic switching on of the lights to mass groans. The third is a grander introspection of Lorde as an artist – someone who achieved notoriety releasing an album which lauded the various nuances of a hedonistic lifestyle now having to discover an adult voice in which to speak.
The album begins with a goodbye on opening track and lead single Green Light. On a perfectly-pitched song that sways from gloomy to rhapsodic over a building disco piano, Lorde bids farewell to her past as she looks to the future of her music and relationships. Sober/Sober II is a song separated into two parts. The first is obviously the time in the party where someone gets the bongos out (you know who you are). It is a brass-infused ode to not caring about tomorrow and living in the moment. The second movement is the daylight creeping through the curtains and the realisation that any connections made the previous night, whilst feeling all-consuming at the time, are now revealed as nothing more than 'melodrama'.
A similar light and dark technique is used on the exceptionally crafted Hard Feelings/Loveless, the first half of which is sold as a floaty ode to moving on from a relationship before transmuting into a bubble gum-toned, spite-filled raging against the light. Writer In The Dark moves into solid Kate Bush territory on a simple, vocally-centred ballad about the overwhelming nature of heartbreak. The album closes out with Perfect Places, a return to the party girl motif. Chasing a carefree high on a crowd surfer of a song, Lorde more than hints at the cyclical nature of life – how no matter how far removed you get from a relationship or a state of mind, there will always be something dragging you back.
There is so much to love about this album. Lorde has undoubtedly established originality as her Mordor. Some of the sampling on the record, the background sounds that creep up on the listener, are inspired. The tracks are well-paced and in possession of a dark fluidity and fluorescence that can make their end points exciting and unpredictable. There are experimentations with song structure and linked songs which, all in all, work well and convey the desired message. Whilst not blessed with the most spectacular voice, Lorde is clearly one of an increasingly small number who view their vocals as an instrument. Much like a trumpeter may use a mute to manipulate, Lorde is in complete control of her voice and uses it in ways that are nothing short of revelatory.
On the whole though, and without wanting to drift too far into the realm of clichés, this does feel very much like a difficult second album. The main factor for me was the lyrics, a big surprise given the inordinate amount of talent on display on her debut album. Parts of Melodrama feel like you are being 'Innerspaced' into the cat's cradle mind of a teenager – thoughts go unfinished and exist as bundled energy as opposed to cohesive paths which can be followed. Lorde's songwriting process, whilst capable of utilising twisted, beautiful imagery and complex wordplay, could perhaps do with a refresher course in the basics so as to not allow her genuine feelings to get lost in the melange. What came so easy to her on Pure Heroine now seems to be a challenge once real emotions, rather than heady teenage daydreams, are in play. The house party analogy is tired and over-simplistic and detracts from the really interesting facet of the album – the transition from young pop star to adult musician. I only hope that, for her next release, Lorde is able to fully let go of the well-trodden territories from which she has emerged and discover a true North that will have us talking about her for many years to come.
Lyric Of The Week
“They'll hang us in the Louvre//Down the back, but who cares – still the Louvre”
Not Lorde of the rings
Party girl grows up but can't
Break some bad Hobbits
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