Review: Lorde's new song Perfect Places
This is how the party ends.
Perfect Places. The closing track on Lorde's sophomore album, Melodrama.
Lorde has said the album charts the course of single house party, which makes its final track the part where the lights come up and whatever enchantment the evening has had dissipates, and there are bottles everywhere, and you can't get to the toilet because someone's in there vomiting.
"What the f... are perfect places, anyway?"
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This is the song's final line. Lorde delivers it in a kind of husky, burned out voice - a voice made raw by a night of cigarettes and hard liquor and slurred karaoke.
It's a quiet and bitter ending, but it's in keeping with the rest of the song. Rolling Stone described Perfect Places as an "existential party anthem".
Although on the surface the song sounds like a dancefloor banger, if you listen to what Lorde's actually singing about, it's pretty dark. She's "ashamed", she "can't stand to be alone", she's mourning the death of her heroes, she's taking off her clothes with a stranger, she's throwing up in the garden, she's threatening to "blow my brains out". There's a palpable desperation in the lyrics.
Perfect Places - and, I think we'll find, Melodrama as a whole - presents a party as a collective quest for an answer to that desperation - for some kind of transcendent, euphoric experience that will make sense of the world.
Isn't that ultimately what you want when we go to a party, or out on the town? You want to experience something that will make validate your weekly grind.
I think that's what Lorde was getting at on Green Light, the first Melodrama track she released and, not coincidentally, the album's opener.
Green Light was a track heavy with anticipation - Lorde's had a crappy break-up, and she's ready to go out and have fun, to forget about it. "I'm waiting for it, that green light, I want it."
At the end of the party, though, Lorde seems even more confused than when she started. It's been "just another graceless night".
Billboard's Gil Kaufman acknowledges this when he writes: "The new track finds a more mature Lorde pondering the endless search for these mythical 'perfect places', while realising that they are just that: a myth that is unobtainable."
That unattainability is reflected in the music. Despite its soaring chorus, Perfect Places never quite delivers on the climax that it teases throughout the song. Noisey's Phil Witmer described the song as "pretty much one big, triumphant hook", which indicates how it never quite goes anywhere.
In another song the lack of direction might be a failing, but because on Perfect Places it's appropriate because it's so aligned with the song's message. On first listen, the song sounds like a pop anthem that doesn't quite get there, but it doesn't take long for you to realise that's kind of the point.
I don't think Perfect Places will be the album's big radio hit - from what we've heard of it, Homemade Dynamite's my pick for that (and I mean, nobody puts their big single as the last track on an album).
Regardless of whether the song's hook catches your ear, though, I think you have to acknowledge Lorde's cleverness in writing an extremely clever piece of pop music that picks holes in the lifestyle it ostensibly celebrates.
Perfect Places' quality is perhaps best summed up by Pitchfork's Jenn Pelly, who awarded it the sites coveted Best New Track prize.
"The promise of the house party is so rarely fulfilled: At any age, you are unlikely to find utopia in a drink and a stranger," she writes.
"By the end of the song, with the raspy inflection of experience, Lorde asks, 'What the f... are perfect places anyway?' There are none. But the path to figuring that out comes close."