Lorde – Melodrama (Universal)

For  mainstream music, Lorde’s debut album, Pure Heroine, was a bolt out of the blue. Laced with the precocious ennui that only a 16 year old could possess, it was a cutting critique of pop hedonism. But what made this album truly fascinating was that Pure Heroine was an internationally successful pop album that was purposely created outside of the very world that lauded it. It was an elegantly contorted take on pop- where Lorde’s ethereally primal vocals and unabashedly self-aware lyrics took centre stage. She wrote about what she knew- being a teenager growing up in (admittedly one of Aucklands most affluent) suburbs and hanging out with her friends. In Tennis Courts she directly questioned the impact impending fame may have on her creative endeavours, asking “how can I fuck with the fun again when I’m known?”

Now, after four years wait from someone the late great David Bowie crowned “the future of music” we have the answer, and it is Melodrama. Where Pure Heroine eschewed the pop world, Melodrama has been created in its epicentre.

Pure Heroine was created in Auckland in collaboration with a man who up until that point was best known for being in Goodnight Nurse, an embarrassing pop punk pastiche complete with faux American accents and a Milkshake cover so shitty I hope they were being ironic. Needless to say, Joel Little did a gobsmackingly good turn around with Lorde. With Melodrama, Lorde has found herself in New York City with musicians and producers who have worked alongside Beyonce, Katy Perry and Fun to name but a few.

The result is a step up in terms of production lyricism and artistry. Much has already been made of the break up theme running throughout the album. The ebb and flow feeling that comes after a nasty breakup- of being surrounded by people yet hopelessly alone, of wanting to collapse in on yourself but embrace a new brave world- is eloquently captured in the extended metaphor of the house party running throughout the first half of the album.

Opener Green Light is an unveiled jibe at an ex and is brimming with the initial rush of freedom. “I want it!” Lorde asserts over a stomping electro-acoustic piano line to create a hook that manages to reference both Kate Bush and Taylor Swift in one swoop. Much like Pure Heroine, the carefully considered details and elegant use of space lend themselves to a spectacular effect on Melodrama swinging between confronting clarity and giddy hedonism in a moment.

Lorde is not the first boldly individualistic pop singer to do this- the aforementioned Kate Bush, Bjork, Grace Jones, heck even Aldous Harding all manage this with their own glorious panache. Each song shifts and metamorphoses before the final note fades. One of my favourites, Perfect Places not only epitomises this; it also feels like it wouldn’t be out of place as a b-side for The Yeah Yeah Yeahs Show Your Bones.

Electronica is a stable for Lorde, and we continue to see this manufactured style juxtaposed against intimate lyrics to give a sense of humanity. Taken straight from the cutting room floor of a 1980s electro-pop band, Supercut is a fantastic example of this tension. Growth is seen through the addition of mournful piano chords on songs such as Liability where Lorde confronts her lonely lifestyle as a top forty wunderkid with ambition to burn.

But it’s not all great. There are moments where everything unique about Lorde is lost amongst some lacklustre Top 40 fodder.- perhaps due to the aforementioned glitzy production team? Homemade Dynamite is undoubtedly the weakest track on the album. It sounds uncomfortably like Taylor Swift and the writing just feels lazy. It jolts you out of an album that is otherwise a cohesive whole with a strong narrative.

These moments of blending in with the crowd pale in comparison with the songs where she asserts herself as an artist and young woman while maintaining a healthy sense of millennial wryness. This is less an album about a break up as it is about a woman finding and embracing herself when she feels the most uncertain. Albert Camus summed it up best when he said “In the depth of winter I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

If Lorde truly is the future of pop music, then her contemporaries best be taking note.

Kate Powell