When you come out with a debut album like Lorde’s 2013 breakthrough Pure Heroine, there is a naturally going to be a huge amount of expectation and scrutiny on your sophomore work. Lorde, however, is seemingly not one to give in to outside pressure, instead, Melodrama is evidence that Lorde dances to her own beat.
Melodrama is genuine and daring, personal and texturised. It has basic hooks and catchy melodies, with added extras that will keep listeners listening, discovering and appreciating long after it inevitably slips down the charts and sooner or later, becomes ironic.
Producer Jack Antonoff (fun.) and Lorde move away from the catchy big beats found on Pure Heroine and move more towards the expertly produced and abstract sounds of piano, synth, violin, trumpet, space and electronica.
As Lorde sings on opener Green Light, “I’m hearing brand new sounds in my mind,” and the sound is definitely a new direction for the New Zealand singer, but still manages to hold onto the Lorde that we have all come to know and love. Melodrama moves away from the crunchy big beats of trip hop and goes to a more upbeat, poppy, disco, individualised and electronic place. In other words; Melodrama is pop done good.
The album is an anthem for young, free women, something that, as admitted by Lorde herself, is easy for her to sing about given who she is. But despite who you are or where you are from, chances are you will know what it feels like to have a burning longing to have fun, a longing to go out and dance off the blues, to consume so hard it hurts, to blindly obsess, to be desired, to be rejected, to say “fuck it”, to say sorry – you’ll know what it feels like to have unnecessary and totally addictive drama. These are the amplified tides of young modern life, and they are beautifully portrayed in the aptly titled Melodrama and summed up in lyrics like the ones featured in Sober: “My hips miss your hips, so let’s get to know the kicks, will you sway with me? Will you go stray with me?”.
The Tove Lo assisted Homemade Dynamite brings a lovely slice of Lana Del Ray style smoky vocals with swelling, clubby synth weaving together lush dream pop and trip hop, all done with Lorde’s exceptional spoken poetry shimmering over it like gold dust. Homemade Dynamite is an important track, as it proves Lorde has vision; she isn’t afraid to go out on a limb and she isn’t afraid to take guidance from others and turn it into her own.
While other pop stars are cultivating personas through traditional and social means, and increasingly move toward releasing solo hits and moving away from concepts or albums, Lorde does things her own way. She cultivates persona through her music and lyrics, and in doing so, she proves that whilst the album may not have a huge amount of number one hits (for one there are too many full of explicit language), as a whole, the body of work stands head and shoulders above her pop counter parts. This is mainly due to her ability to experiment with writing, melody, texture, tempo, vocal, structure and musical style but still stitch together a song that is compelling and catchy, not too busy, not too obnoxious, just – right.
Liability takes us back to the Lorde we got to know on Pure Heroine, a beat poet style trip-pop track that paints a picture like a Monet. Lorde is an expert at making you picture an image with words and atmosphere and bringing you into her world. “I am a toy until my tricks don’t work anymore, then everyone is bored of me,” she exposes in Liability.
Possibly the most effecting and powerful song on the album is Writer in the Dark, where she sings “Bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark/ I am my mothers’ child, I’ll love you till my breathing stops/ I’ll love you till you call the cops on me” and “I still feel you now and then/ Slow like pseudoephedrine”. Her vocal work through the chorus is haunting, and is akin to one of her biggest influences; Aldous Harding. The violin and piano add to the bygone classic feel making it stand out as a masterpiece in modern pop.
Through Liability (Reprise) and Perfect Places, the album plateaus a little. The tricks and spells that got you at hello in the first nine tracks do tend to run a little thin and you find yourself wanting to skip ahead and start at the beginning again. Another low point is The Louvre, which feels drowned out by thick synth, and rushed and haphazard through the verses.
But there’s something so likeable about Lorde and Melodrama, it’s almost hard to pin down what is. Perhaps it’s her honest lyricism done with the most nonchalant of charm; or perhaps it’s her pride in her debauchery and hedonism (she references one night stands and drug taking a lot); perhaps it’s her unapologetic love of drama? Or maybe it’s her equally harrowing and humble vocal work or her completely off kilter but somehow perfect musical and lyrical timing?
No, what makes Melodrama so great is that it is genuine and real. And no amount of production prowess, writing teams, collaborations or musical masterminds in the world can make something genuine.
The album is extremely introverted, it evades anything external, and focuses on intimate and personal experiences and ideas, but in writing about herself and her experiences, the subject is universal. For no matter who you are, how famous, how wealthy, how talented, love and youth feels the same for everyone: horrific, beautiful, sad, scary, all-consuming, gut wrenching, and – when combined – probably the greatest damn feeling a human can experience, and this is exactly what the album captures.
As you listen to Melodrama, to the post-disco slow burn of Sober II or the smooth 80s electro pop of Supercut, you get the feeling you have stepped out into the sunshine and the warmth is slowly driving out the cold, warming your blood. It’s that kind of heart warming album.
As far as progressive pop albums go, Melodrama is up there with the best, and should be lauded as such.