Review Summary: Actually, my name's Marina.
The ever evolving pop world has just had its bird cage rattled for the first of what will hopefully be many times in 2010. What we have here is somewhat of an anomaly in a genre that is regularly chiseled to pinpoint perfection: what's on offer here just doesn't add up. Young, precocious and stunning to look at, Welsh-born Marina Diamandis looks the part - that is, as if she should easily fit the precise mold of a clean-cut pop starlet with mild, inoffensive electro-pop backing; destined for chart success. All this premonition, mind, is without hearing one word uttered from her cherry-red lips. Once they're gaping, there's no such luck for what you expected. Within the first two minutes of the album, Diamandis (whom performs under the moniker Marina & The Diamonds) sings of pulling out her hair, being a control freak and claiming that it's her problem "if I have no friends and if I want to die"; all the while asking if you are "satisfied with an average life."
The Family Jewels
, her debut album, was always going to be a shock to the senses, but there's something about this aesthetic deception that lures you in even further - the album is sharply executed, lavish in its hooks and, once you familiarise yourself with it, one of the more rewarding pop album experiences in quite some time. Looking to make a firm identity stamp with her music, it's unsurprising that the twenty-four-year-old Diamandis can't stick around long in one particular sound. Her ambition makes for a tracklisting that, as an entity, perhaps may come across as a little inconsistent. Dealing with each track on its own, however, will result in some phenomenal finds. The Kate Bush-esque parade of "Mowgli's Road", for instance, will lock itself inside your head and throw away the key; a twisted, rollicking exploration of pop's jungles and swamplands as opposed to its cities and V.I.P. clubs. Supremes-esque backing vocals and a triumphant, paradoxical chorus ("I don't know, don't know, don't know, don't know/who I want to be") are pitted against distorted keyboard, a thudding percussive rhythm and even the demented screeches of a monkey (no, really) in what feels like a fight to the finish. With not a second wasted in the entire song, Marina has put forth a sound that's inventive and exciting - and the best part about it is that it doesn't stop there.
"Hollywood" is an upbeat piano-pop comedy of errors. Marina observes how easy it is to become overly enamoured in Westernised culture ("living in the movie scene/kicking American dreams"), all the while her tongue firmly placed inside her cheek. Look no further than the "OH. MY. GOD!" of the second verse for the smirk-inducing proof of this. Meanwhile, "I Am Not a Robot" is self-deprecation at its most anthemic. Here, Diamandis talks openly and unhappily to herself over a strong piano progression and a soaring string arrangement: "Don't be so pathetic/Just open up and sing", she sighs at one point. She brings in steely harmonies during its verses and a swaying choir during its unforgettable chorus, giving the song the extra kick needed and securing its spot as one of the album's most memorable moments.
In fact, it's when Marina properly arranges her thickly layered voice that the highlights come quick and fast. "The Outsider" and closer "Guilty" boast quivering, wordless warbles near their conclusion that evolve from a solitary whisper into "Bohemian Rhapsody"-esque grandeur simply by adding higher harmony vocals one by one. Additionally, the stirring ballad "Numb" is swelled to even greater proportions with angelic vocal arrangements giving the impression of a thousand Marinas wailing the emotionally distant refrain of "I feel numb most of the time/The more I get, the higher I climb". Matched with a refreshing variety backings that vary from accordion, piano and electric bass to wurtilizer, synth and electronic drum patterns; the album has perfect twenty-twenty vision of the entire pop spectrum, taking what it pleases from across the territory but mostly oriented towards the left-of-centre.
Amidst the current wave of what your radio has to offer, Marina and The Diamonds is too great a sound to ignore. Her obvious talent, her technicolour imagination and her unbelievable knack for modern pop brilliance are not so much a glimmer of hope but a radiance similar to what one gets from holding one of those titular diamonds to direct sunlight. Calling this the potential foremost sound of 2010 might result in being told to calm down by naysayers...but then they'll listen to The Family Jewels