Album of the Year:
Lorde - Melodrama
IT was a pretty close-run thing but, in a list with heavy…
PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew Whitton
learning toward males artists: it was a very special album from Lorde that made the biggest impact this year. I will talk more about Melodrama but, when it comes my favourite records of 2017; there is an interesting and varied blend to be found. Lorde beat out Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. and Benjamin Clementine’s I Tell a Fly; Wolf Alice’s Vision of a Life and St. Vincent’s Masseduction; Baxter Dury’s Prince of Tears and Dizzee Rascal’s Raskit; Lucy Rose’s Something’s Changing and Robert Plant’s Carry Fire – Queens of the Stone Age’s Villains making its way into the high spots! Those albums are in no particular order, either: I would actually put Queens’, Benjamin Clementine and Wolf Alice in the next three spots; Raskit would be challenging in the top-five. It’s not a huge male majority but there are bands in there – the overall body-count tips in favour of the guys. It is, therefore, quite pleasing to see the youngest female in the top-ten get the honours. That sounds condescending but it is not meant to be: Melodrama is a stunning album that has already been dubbed NME’s favourite L.P. of the year. It is not often I side with the ailing publication but, on this occasion, they were right on the money – even if the remainder of their top-ten contained a couple of duds...
New Zealand-born Lorde caused an enormous wave of excitement where Melodrama was released back in June. The weather was hot but few could have predicted something as intense and bright as Melodrama. Lorde’s debut album, Pure Heroine, was released in 2013 and was a smash with critics. They noted its maturity and unique lyrical personality; the striking vocals and incredibly memorable tracks. There were some who were less-than-positive but the majority of critics threw their weight behind the record and marked Lorde out as an icon to watch – the then-teenager was lauded and lifted above the musical crowd! It was not a surprise to see the talented songwriter take a bit of time to craft her sophomore album: the fact it was a four-year wait created some nerves and doubts.
When Royal Blood and London Grammar returned this year with their sophomore albums; there was a real concern from both – each act repeating what they put onto their debut without adding anything new; each record weaker than their debuts. Maybe that problem arose from the fact they have very defined sounds and it would have been a risky venture adding too many new genres and sides to their music – the long gaps between records, one feels, would have afforded the chance for originality and innovation. Both British acts were busy touring after their debut and that fatigue/lack of studio time meant weaker second albums than we all expected. Lorde might have fallen into the same trap. She was elevated from an unknown musician to a global megastar when her debut album hit the shelves. She embarked on international touring and was on the cover of magazines; featured on radio stations around the world and under the spotlight. Considering her music, that appeared on the debut, was unique and personal meant a rapid follow-up was not likely. She needed time to craft songs and let inspiration find her – some time to write between gigs and find moments to put her thoughts on the page. I sighed a bit when the years went by and we entered 2017 – and still no sign of a new Lorde album!
Maybe the pressure had got to the young songwriter; the expectation too fierce – perhaps Pure Heroine was a strange and beautiful one-off....The first signs of new Lorde life – aside from some marketing hype and teasers – was the incredible lead-off single, Green Light. Anyone who feared Lorde was not match-fit had to eat their words when that song arrived. Its video saw the heroine dancing through the streets and casting her spell wherever she stepped. I am not usually predisposed to embrace a Pop album: even if it is a sophisticated and deep one. Last year, my favourite album was Billie Marten’s Writing of Blues and Yellows: this year, I was expecting Kendrick Lamar to stay in my mind; maybe a late effort from Björk could prize the award from Lorde’s grasp?! I am still letting Utopia settle and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds made a noble charge with Who Built the Moon? Neither album could shift the passion I have for Melodrama.
It won me around because it is unconventional and unexpected. There are nods to the 1980s in terms of the big sounds and incredible sense of fun – even if the production values keep it in 2017. There are swathes of 1990s and early-2000s Pop, too – she spanned the decades and managed to inject so many different sounds and ideas into one record! Some have described the album as a concept, of sorts. Lorde struggled with some of the writing. False-stars and fruitless detours were not helped by a break-up from her long-term boyfriend, James Lowe (in 2015). It is hard to see past that split and how it infused and inspired some of Melodrama’s most potent and personal poetry. The album explores solitude but there is that location of a house-party: the heroine letting loose one moment; playing the acid-lipped vixen in another room; moving to contemplative and mournful in another – aware and awakened the next moment. Written and produced alongside Jack Antonoff; there are contributions from Frank Dukes, Malay; Andrew Wyatt and others. I read interviews where Lorde provided insight into her creative process and the artists who inspired Melodrama.
Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell were named as guides. It is easy to see aspects of Graceland and albums like Blue/Both Sides Now on Melodrama. A lot of contemporary Pop/mainstream stars do not cast their mind back or have a huge knowledge of older music – taking impetus from their peers and producing music somewhat one-dimensional and plastic. There is soul and intelligence running through Melodrama; immense nuance and songs that have their own identity and nature – no two songs alike; each one engrossing and captivating. Green Light is the racing opener and first track written for Melodrama. When speaking with Pitchfork; she explained the song’s birth and formation:
“The song is really about those moments kind of immediately after your life changes and about all the silly little things that you gravitate towards. I say, 'She thinks you love the beach, you're such a liar.' What the fuck, she thinks you like the beach?! You don't like the beach! It's those little stupid things. It sounds so happy and then the lyrics are so intense obviously. And I realized I was like, 'how come this thing is coming out so joyous sounding?' And I realized this is that drunk girl at the party dancing around crying about her ex-boyfriend who everyone thinks is a mess. That's her tonight and tomorrow she starts to rebuild. And that's the song for me”.
PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Mahaney for TIME
There is a bit of Florence + the Machine’s jangling, big piano work; there are cheerier big moments but the mood is one of reflection and heartbreak. Compelled by her first heartbreak; Green Light is that acceptance of longing – moving on and trying to make sense of things. The first-written song for the album was going to be a natural opener and debut single – it is the core and heart of the record; it contains all Lorde’s much-loved D.N.A. and incredible songwriting. One can hear Lorde taking control and having more say in the production; ensuring the song was just as she wanted it to sound. Sober and The Louvre paint pictures – quite appropriate given the title of the latter! Sober is a more emotional and revealing song whereas The Louvre more scenic and descriptive – one could imagine standing alongside the heroine and following the story. Liability and Writer in the Dark are two of the strongest songs Lorde has ever come up with! Writer in the Dark is about deceit and leading someone astray; the dangers of trusting her and playing folly with emotions – telling the boy never to trust someone like her. Liability shows the sort of emotions and pains deep in Lorde’s heart: a raw and revealing diary-note that could have been ripped from the pages of any young woman’s thoughts – expressing the same sort of romantic pains and inner-reflections many experience.
Super Cut and Perfect Places incredibly striking and gripping. The latter, in a way, is the reward after the reveals: in the middle of the party and listening to her own voice; not following muses and anyone else – returning to the same place you were in to start with. That is what makes the finale so intriguing and unique: a young artist who is immersed in parties and chaos; looking for somewhere better before realising she is in the same state she always was. The entire record is a look at the break-up and wreckage of love and the way it has affected her; growing out of her teenager skin and trying to start a new phase – Melodrama is, perhaps, not a bad title considering the times and tribulations documented throughout.
I feel it is the perfect record for 2017: an artist who took time to create something special and not rush-release an album; managing to top her debut and break new ground. Nobody this year has crafted anything as mesmeric and populist as Lorde. Critics were fast to add their words and praise. AllMusic was filled with love (…”Instead, Lorde is embracing all the possibilities the world has to offer but then retreating to the confines of home, so she can process everything she's experienced. This balance between discovery and reflection gives Melodrama a tension, but the addition of genuine, giddy pleasure -- evident on the neon pulse of "Homemade Dynamite" and "Supercut" -- isn't merely a progression for Lorde, it's what gives the album multiple dimensions”); The Telegraph was hardly ambivalent with their assessment (“Her distinctive melodic style and hip hop rhythmic flow actually risks getting a bit dully repetitive if the content was not so strong and the arrangements so carefully fashioned and consistently surprising. What is truly fantastic about Lorde is that here is an original, emotional, intellectual, imaginatively audacious singer-songwriter operating at the highest artistic level yet putting it across as easy-access modern mainstream pop. Melodrama deserves to be a blockbuster”)...
NME, a little smitten, too (“It’s a rudely excellent album, introspective without ever being indulgent, OTT in all the right ways, honest and brave, full of brilliant songs with lyrics to chew over for months. The message might be that Lorde considers herself wild and flawed and bruised (“I’ll love you till you call the cops on me,” she sings, on the deliciously bitter ‘Writer In The Dark’), but we all do sometimes. That’s the neatest trick the album pulls off – universal connection, in spite of the squad and the praise and the superstardom and the pressure. Humanity intact. Artistry assured. Brilliance confirmed”). The latter named it their favourite album of 2017: I expect many other big-name publications to follow suit!
I think it will be a two-horse-race when it comes to that ‘Album of 2017’ leadership: Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. is natural competition. Two more different albums/humans could you meet – I think Lorde has the edge over the phenomenal Lamar. Whoever is the critical winner come the end of this year; I am going to remain with Lorde and keep the album in my number-one position. It is a fantastic work that deserves to be heard for years to come. One wonders what the next step is for the New Zealander. The gap between albums number-one and two was due to a romance split and some half-formed sketches – songs not forming quickly and Lorde having to deal with a lot of upset. I am not sure whether she is in a relationship now but one assumes/hopes the period between now and her third album will not have the same turmoil and upset – she is in her twenties and has learned how capricious love can be. Whether she ponders increased fame and a new phase of life on her third record, I am not sure...
PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Mahaney for TIME
When that will come, again, is down to her – let’s hope there is a shorter wait than we had for Melodrama! I am still listening to Melodrama five months after its release. It is a record that provides new life and interest every time you put it on; there are no limits to its potential and the feelings it provokes. That is an amazing feat from someone so young and fresh in the music world! Lorde is not your average artist, mind. You never know what to expect from her, when it comes to themes and songs, but we have come to rely on that unimpeachable quality and wonder. Lorde has so many years ahead and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next. Melodrama is a peerless record from a musical treasure; a unique songwriter and…
PHOTO CREDIT: Garth Badger
A truly special artist.