Many years ago a friend gushed to me about pop star Lorde – telling me that she was the absolute best he’d heard in a bit. Now, most of the aging hipsters in my age range (mid 30’s to mid 40’s) DO seem like pop music – ironically or genuine, i have no idea. I filed his advice into the back of my head and forgot about it, hipster that I am. Now, I i don’t live under a rock – I’ve seen her name pop up over the years and really enjoyed the cover of Royals by Puddles Pity Party (the sad clown you’ve probably seen on YouTube or season 12 of America’s Got Talent). Anyway – my point is, though I new of her and knew she was talented, I’d never sat down and indulged myself in her particular brand of pop prowess. Until now.
Melodrama is 2017’s follow-up to Lorde’s worldwide debut smash, Pure Heroine. Now at age 20, her worldview is cast with a slightly more mature eye than the 16 year old who enchanted audiences in 2013. It does pain me a bit that Lorde was born 18 months after I graduated high school, but that has no bearing on the quality of this music – from start to finish, this is pop perfection. Heartbreak, anxiety, distrust, joy, elation – it is all on display here. Strings meet beats, sometimes skittering in a way that reminds me of late 90’s trip-hop. At her best, she makes the listener feel her emotional aches and allows us to root for her to come out on top by the end of the song. In my own way, I’ll always root for a New Zealand artist to connect on a worldwide level – I have family in New Zealand. I’m pleased to say that this – thus far – is the album of the year.
Green Light opens the album with a menacing story of betrayal. Lorde’s vocals provide the perfect contrast of pleasure & pain. “I know about what you did and I wanna scream the truth”. Ouch. It all builds to a catchy chorus that obscures the anger of the verses – not unlike the best songs by the Pet Shop Boys. Sober and later in the album Sober II (Melodrama) provide the soundtrack for the clubs, with the feeling of being free. Or is it really free? “We pretend that we just don’t care / but we care / but what will we do when we’re sober?”. And later, in the 2nd part with almost no beats, swelling strings, and emotive vocals “God, I wonder why we bother / All the glamour, and the trauma / And the fucking melodrama”. Stunning. Liability is my absolute favorite song on the album – a slice of Beatles-ish piano pop with heartbreaking lyrics to match the melancholy music. A date gone wrong, a dance alone, wondering about your place in the world. Brian Wilson would be proud. “She’s so hard to please / But she’s a forest fire”. That line kills me. Writer in the Dark features the strongest vocal performance of the album and is another ballad seeped in sadness. “Bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark” – I could probably use that line at some point. Amazing. Perfect Places ends the album on an impossibly high note – layered vocals, catchy beat, sing-a-long chorus.
You can pick this album up just about anywhere. I can’t wait to see what comes next from Lorde.
Verdict: Vulnerable and Masterful
For Fans of: Miley Cyrus, Portishead, Aldous Harding, Perfume Genius, Lana Del Rey