Review: Lorde's Melodrama: First listen, first reactions
OPINION: Melodrama finds Lorde raising a fist at the glare and the fatuousness of celebrity culture even while she celebrates the deserved acclaim and attention that 2013's Pure Heroine brought her.
Yes it's great to be on the doorlist of every party in town. And yes it sucks the blood out of your heart to see every move you make analysed and pawed over in the social and the anti-social media.
The album opens with the storming dance-floor candy of Green Light, which prefaces the story Melodrama goes on to tell quite perfectly.
Not every one of the 10 tracks that follow Green Light are quite up to the song's challenge. But neither is there anything here that you'd remotely call filler. In fact, I'd pick a couple of tracks here as being the strongest work Ella Yelich-O'Connor has ever turned out.
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Sadly – but wisely – the barnstorming piano line that defined Green Light and put a grin on my face that lasted the day, doesn't make it out to play again on Melodrama. Once was great, but once is enough. Even Primal Scream realised that eventually.
Track 2 Sober arrives in a waft of looped vocals, muted synth' stabs and a busy, dislocating drum pattern just perfect for a song set at midnight with the morning's regrets already visible in the distance.
The party hits another gear in the similarly put together Homemade Dynamite, lovers dance, drinks flow. No one is going home anytime soon.
The moment that blows Melodrama through the roof – for me anyway – arrives with The Louvre, track four.
A bass line nicked straight out of Billy Bragg's A New England chugs into gear before a loping synth and drum kicks in.
"Well, summer slipped us underneath her tongue ... Our days and nights are perfumed with obsession ... Half of my wardrobe is on your bedroom floor..." sings Lorde, and we know that we most definitely ain't in Devonport any more.
The Louvre slinks and struts. Lorde pushes that deceptively tough voice of hers harder than she has until now and the sheer lyrical inventiveness that is her one unfakeable weapon comes screaming to the fore.
"Our thing progresses, I call and you come through ... Blow all my friendships to sit in hell with you ... But we're the greatest, they'll hang us in the Louvre ... Down the back, but who cares, still the Louvre."
And if anyone can find me a few lines that better simultaneously capture and puncture the sweet and the sour self-awareness of the first weeks of new love, then send me a frickin' postcard.
Liability kicks in next. You know it well. It's a good, occasionally quite moving song. An odd choice for a single, but listened to within the context of an entire album, Liability does its share of carrying the narrative.
Hard Feelings/Loveless comes in at a comparatively epic six minutes-plus. It is, I think, the weakest track on the album. There's an anthemic swing about it we won't encounter again for a while. But Hard Feelings only really comes to life during it's joyously off-kilter middle bridge. A synth that sounds like whale song on speed kicks in for a few demented seconds and I hoped, truly, that the song was about to take flight.
But that slashed title tells a tale of a song in two acts. Hard Feelings/Loveless pauses, chucks in a vocal sample (Paul Simon?) and kicks off on a completely other tangent. Which sounds like a sketch for a chorus, not a complete song at all. If Melodrama has a serious mis-step, then the back end of Hard Feelings/Loveless is where it happens.
Track 7 is the slightly redundant Sober 2. Which mildly outlasts its own ideas after swooping in to land on the back of a synth score so honeyed it could give you toothache.
Melodrama rockets back into contention with Writer in the Dark, with Lorde giving her toughest and least inflected vocal performance in the service of the album's strongest set of lyrics, sitting confidently on a bed of piano and just a dash of strings. It's a superb, confident, song and a highlight of the album.
Or it was, until track 9 Supercut cuts in. Supercut is a blast of bass and cheese beamed in from a simpler, happier decade. There's a murmur of Berlin-era Bowie about this track, and a controlled thunder through its bridge that hints at a remix that could shatter your ear-buds if it's ever let out of Jack Antonoff's laptop.
Track 10, Liability Reprise, doesn't so much revisit its namesake as provide a bleak, soulful coda to its story. It's a frightening song, and it makes for an uncomfortable near-end to an album we might have been hoping for a little catharsis and uplift from by now.
The catharsis arrives late, in Perfect Places. You've heard the track by now. But here, closing out the album, its themes and concerns are laid bare and reeking of good sense. There is no perfect place to be found in booze and drugs and sex and dancing. But what would perfection even look like? Would you rather live in the company of flawed, flailing, friendship. Or would you prefer someone else's idea of what your happiness might look like.
Perfect Places takes Melodrama where Pure Heroine at its best delivered us, to that mix of the defiant and the solipsistic that Ella Yelich-O'Connor has a rare lyrical lock on.
Is Melodrama the equal of Pure Heroine? Sometimes, yes.
But this is a second album, not a first love. And that is kind of the point, surely?
What was once the most important thing in the world is just gossip-column fodder tomorrow. Everything and everyone you do has been done better and before.
Does that does that mean your life is not worth having? Hell no.
Melodrama is a collection of mostly strong, resonant messages from the front-lines of an adolescence lived in a spotlight.
Lorde is making mistakes, making amends and staying true to the engines that drove her here. Melodrama is not perfect, and history may not judge it as any sort of classic. But for now, late at night on a first listen and with a life-time of stunningly good rock n' roll in my memory banks, I'm happily impressed.