Review Summary: Marina is the self-proclaimed fucking wild card of the quirky Brit pack.
It is an under-statement to suggest that quirky female sung pop is all the rage at present; especially amongst British artists. The style may not be totally original since Kate Bush was plying her trade in the sub-genre some three decades ago, but apart from some intermittent success for the likes of Tori Amos, Bjork and Fiona Apple, no one vocalist has made the idiosyncratic musical approach their own. Over the past couple of years however, things appear to have changed. Amanda Palmer, Paloma Faith and Florence and the Machine have all released strong - if polarizing - albums that have garnered a significant fan-base. Next to join the off-the-wall assortment is 24 year old Welsh born songstress Marina Diamandis.
At least co-writing all of the thirteen tracks on her debut LP ‘The Family Jewels’, Diamandis – going by the stage name of Marina & The Diamonds (despite no actual backing band called The Diamonds) – wastes no time in astutely merging her unorthodox eccentricities with irresistibly catchy pop hooks on strong opener ‘Are You Satisfied?’. As the album progresses however, the opener almost pales into insignificance with what is to come! While Marina dabbles in other genres here and there, pop is clearly where she shines… Look no further than on the addictive chorus of ‘Oh No!’ and the amazingly infectious ‘Hollywood’; a memorable song of the year contender which deserves to be 2010’s version of whichever Lady Gaga single you liked best.
That is not to say ‘The Family Jewels’ will be for everyone. Forty-five minutes is sure to be too much for many listeners, and Marina’s want to explore such an abundance of variety is as much a weakness as it is a strength. She clearly still needs work on Gaga-like electro if ‘Shampain’ is anything to go by, while her strike-rate on ballads is split with the vulnerable ‘Obsessions’ superior to the so-so ‘Rootless’. More pertinent however, is a batch of songs which utilize a theatrical kitchen-sink approach; from lush strings arrangements and instruments such as glockenspiels, accordions and harpsichords (some of which Marina play), all the way through to the singers exaggerated enunciations. Tracks such as ‘Girls’ and ‘Hermit the Frog’ will especially rub many the wrong way, while lead single ‘Mowgli’s Road’ contains everything from animal noises to a downright weird breakdown. Yet, even these cuts are difficult to resist, with Marina displaying a strangely endearing charisma while never forsaking those all-important alluring hooks.
One thing is for certain; Marina and her bevy of producers (Liam Howe, Pascal Gabriel, Greg Kurstin & Richard Stannard) always keep things “interesting”. Closer ‘Guilty’ effectively switches tempos, while instruments drop in and out at the drop of a hat. No song outstays its welcome either, since the angelic choir-like layered vocals of the Florence-like ‘Numb’ is the only track which progresses past four minutes. Thematically speaking, there is also a lot going on since Marina runs the full gamut of emotions throughout the album. “I’m vulnerable” she admits while testing her upper register on EP holdover ‘I Am Not A Robot”. Yet, later on ‘Oh No!’, she claims “I know exactly what I want and who I want to be”. For the most part though, her intentions are sincere since topics of responsibility, stereotypes, ostracism and insecurity are all prevalent, even on some of the more outlandish cuts.
Ambition can definitely be a double-edged sword in the music industry, and one gets the feeling that Marina Diamandis will realize this sooner rather than later. One person’s diversity is another’s incoherent mess, while what can be viewed as character-rich could also be deemed as fake. For these reasons, Marina is more likely to be compared to Paloma Faith, than Florence Welch. Yet, there is a savvy depth evident throughout ‘The Family Jewels’ which simply cannot be ignored; fun, serious, poppy and unorthodox, it is an album full of contradictions, but one which rarely fails to entertain. For that reason alone, in the ever-growing pack of quirky female singers, Marina could just well be – as she self-proclaims on ‘The Outsider’ – the “fu*king wild card”.
Recommended Tracks: Hollywood, Mowgli’s Road, Oh No! & Numb.