The Best Albums of 2017 (So Far):
Lorde - Melodrama
AFTER I finished my laudatory piece about Laura Marling…
and her latest album, Semper Femina - it occurred to me how young she is. To write an album like that at twenty-seven is a remarkable feat: the fact that is her sixth album is truly remarkable. Now I face twenty-year-old New Zealander Lorde and I am back in that agog state. Following her 2013 debut, Pure Heroine, critics were impressed by her honesty, striking lyrics and addictive, incredible voice. Some were less kind but it was a felt, from an artist still in her teens, better work would arrive. It did not take long for Lorde to plan her second attack. Not long after the release of the album, a couple of months, in fact, Melodrama was starting to take place. If, in her words, Pure Heroine was the teenage feeling of preparing for a party – putting lights up, getting ready and sound-tracking the never-ending preening, preparing and clothing choices – this album is the youngster at the party and deep in the music. Maybe a clever way of explaining a mature step forward; one cannot help notice how different Melodrama is (to Pure Heroine). Whilst, unlike Sampha and Laura Marling (my two previous subjects in this feature), there are more writers/producers in the mix – it is not to say Melodrama is the work of a committee.
PHOTO CREDIT: Dean Chalkley
Eight of the eleven tracks feature Lorde going solo on the lyrics: she co-writes the music on all tracks – her and Jack Antonoff taking care of things for the most part. One feels Lorde could have written everything herself but found a connection and affiliation with Antonoff. Recorded over an eighteen-month period; there is a sense of realisation, discovery and growth on Melodrama. Pure Heroine was a young artist taking her first steps and preparing herself for the party, as it were. Melodrama is the full-flight, volume-turned-up-loud epicentre of the party. Not that there is needless bombast, petulance and rebellion. Instead, Lorde’s intensity and volume come in the form of maturity, huge originality and consistently brilliant lyrics. That might sound like a middle-aged version of ‘cool’ but, considering she was still a teenager when the final notes were being recorded, that is incredibly impressive. Lorde’s second album is, for the most part, battles with loneliness in all its forms.
Many have theorised the songs document a relationship breakup – the New Zealand artist has denied this – but it is about certain awkwardness and the pressures of fame. One would see someone like Lorde and assume – given her success and popularity – she would be fighting people off. Melodrama is a revealing look inside a young woman who is juggling music responsibilities and growing up – trying to find company but finding it hard to come by. Music is, intrinsically, a lonely and tough industry: few albums address it and redact the truth. Green Light, the first single from the album, is one of the more traditional breakup songs- Lorde stated how she loves breakup songs and gets an understanding of that side; not having to Google it and learn that way. Watching Lorde’s triumphant appearance at this year’s Glastonbury was a revelation to me. She was on a huge stage in front of thousands of people. It would be understandable were the nerves to get to her – daunted by the reality of being centre-stage and under the spotlight. Her charming, personal and humble performance was as real and authentic as they come. No vainglorious boasting and ego: a woman, at times dazed, who was overwhelmed by the crowds and their love. This sense of personality and modesty comes through in the music. Tracks like The Louvre – the heroine hanging in the back of the gallery; not quite prestigious enough to be in the atrium or public gaze – is a sheepish woman who wants attention - but knows she might have to settle for being a wallflower.
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty
That is unfair because, hearing Lorde talk and listen to her music, she is second to nobody. It makes Melodrama’s consistency, highlights and themes harder to take – knowing she deserves to be happier and more resolved. Perhaps loneliness and isolation have fuelled some of the greatest albums ever. Taking inspiration from Tom Petty, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell; Lorde wanted Melodrama to be a catharsis but, also, combine hedonism and vulnerability. Writer in the Dark warns against kissing a singer/writer like her – a blend of kiss-and-tell caution and falling for someone who will lead the guy astray. Album highlight Liability is a bare and gorgeously-sung track – the second single from the album – where the heroine sings from the diary pages and confesses her inner fears (the track is under-produced to allow the words to strike and register more clearly).
Having grown up in the public focus since the age of seventeen; Lorde had no choice but live with that lifestyle. A young woman from the offset – not a petulant or pouting teen – she has become an apostle of maturity and acting your age. So many mainstream Pop stars are immature and too reliant on sex, relations and drama to sell their album. Lorde, by contrast, shows a dignity and steeliness her contemporaries should learn from. The input of Fun and Bleachers man Jack Antonoff is pivotal. He brings in retro. synths., stunning signatures and big, empathic moments: contrasting from Pure Heroine’s less diverse and ‘calmer’s sounds. Colour seems to be a background theme for Melodrama – and Lorde as a woman. The go-now green of the title track to the pastels and watercolours of The Louvre; the black and grey heaviness of Sober to the black-red-and-pink femme fatale allure of Writer in the Dark contributes to a kaleidoscopic collage of textures and tones.
If The Louvre is more about the doomed infancy of a causal relationship: one can extrapolate a sense of anonymity, invisibility and solitude. One hears literalism and obliqueness mix throughout the album. There are autobiographical elements and fictional passages: these contrasts and consistencies result in an album filled with wonder, promise and mysticism. Lorde is queen and master of everything she surveys on Melodrama. Her vocals range from bewitching and low-growled to high-pitched and ethereal. The songwriting is among the most original, personal and surprising you will hear all year – few expected such an evolution from an artist so young. Production values are rich and luscious when needed; under-done and subtle when the music calls for less tangible parentage. Because of this intelligent and wise approach to the music; critics have been buckled and seduced by the young Lorde. She continues to up the game and, at twenty, show there are plenty more albums left in her. Melodrama is a dizzying and wondrous record that has…
FEW rivals this year.
July 2015 – January 2017
Lorde, Jack Antonoff; Jean-Benoît Dunckel, Flume; Frank Dukes, Kuk Harrell; Joel Little, Malay; S1 and Andrew Wyatt
Greenlight, Sober; The Louvre, Sober II (Melodrama); Writer in the Dark, Supercut