Review Summary: Welsh singer/songwriter Marina and the Diamonds releases her no-filler electronic sophomore album "Electra Heart". Read my track-by-track review of every song on the standard edition.
Marina and the Diamonds is back with her sophomore studio album, and ditches her New Wave and Indie pop styles for her new found love for electronic music. It's a unique no-filler album with few duds. It's lyrics cover a range of topics, and in Marina's own words, the "anti-Adele". Its sonically expansive landscape features well done production from everyone from Dr. Luke to Liam Howe. Heres my track by track review of Electra Heart.
Electra Heart opens with the fast-paced, power punk-y "Bubblegum Bitch" which also happens to be the tentative name for one of the four "Archetypes" on the album. Filled will electric guitars and a thumping four-on-the-floor beat, it wouldn't sound that out of place on a No Doubt album. As a matter of fact the more you listen to it, the more you can hear the signature Gwen Stefani pop-rock in your face attitude shine through, and overall makes for an enjoyable retro sounding experience. Following "Bubblegum Bitch" is the projects lead single, "Primadonna". It opens with pure opera-pop vocals before shifting into a synth filled electronic rock concoction. Dr. Luke's production is easily recognized through its thumping disco-house beat, with just a hint of American induced bubblegum pop that is so frequently heard on the radio today. Marina demands the attention from her lover here, which is a side we rarely seen from her. A definite stand out track and a sure fire hit for Marina.
Let me just start off by saying, "Lies" is one of the most interesting and listenable songs I've come across in quite some time. At first I was a little leery when I first heard the news that the song was flirting with dubstep, considering the genre isn't the most appealing to me. "Lies" proved me wrong. What starts off softly as a piano with light background vocals soon turned in a electro-dubstep ballad about not being able to let someone you love go. Marina's vocals remain light and airy, while Luke lets the production compliment her voice nicely. During the bridge, new age music takes over, only supported by light background vocals and an acoustic guitar, before throttling back into a last chorus finale. "Homewrecker" is a half talked/half sung electronic Hi-NRG song which showcases the most melodramatic vocals on Electra Heart. Opening with a distorted spoken intro by Marina about the possibility of love, soon her vocals transform into the cheerleader rocking Ni-NRG chorus with towering synths, the perfect stadium sing-along. The lyrics mainly consisting of breaking hearts for fun, and tricking people into playing her game. Although I appreciate the spoken verses, I do feel that if she sung more, it could have been the best song on Electra Heart.
My favourite song on the album is "Starring Role", though. A pure-electronic mid-tempo ballad filled with chimes and an electric guitar, and some light glitchy moments. The pre-chorus kicks in and the tempo speeds up along with Marina's vocals, before the best chorus on Electra Heart is entered you can hear the slight drop of a drum, signifying what comes next. Breathy ballad vocals accompanied with superb production make this song Marina's "The Edge of Glory" of the album. One of the few songs Marina wrote about her ex-lover who refused to be himself to her, and only opened up during the night. The instrumentation swells up into the middle 8, with Marina's vocals suddenly becoming edgier, and then it leads into the final chorus, which sums the song up beautifully. Overall, the song is the perfect representation of everything Electra Heart is in Marina's life, and the best song on the album. "State of Dreaming" follows "Starring Role", and maybe it's just the difference in sound between the two, but it just seems like a bit of a let down. There are so many ideas and genres trying to fit into one song. The creepy electronic intro, the piano ballad pre-chorus, the disco-rock chorus, the transformation into house music during the second verse, the 40's style vocals on the bridge, and the symphony-pop ending. It doesn't flow very consistently all together. She aimed too high for one song, which produced one of the only duds on the album.
After the symphony-pop ending of "State of Dreaming", we're suddenly transported into the electro-house club track "Power & Control". Similar to "Radioactive", it features a euphoric chorus, and the electro-pop influence is evident towards the end of the song. Disguised as a club track, it's lyrics allude to the struggle in a relationship for the dominant position. It can be viewed as Marina figuring out her lovers plans, and turning them on him. A great dance track that makes for a fun listen, an album highlight, especially the space-agey synths at the end. Unlike "State of Dreaming", which attempts the same feat as our next track "Living Dead", by utilizing multiple genres, this song actually pulls it off quite well. You can hear the synthpop and electro-pop stamps all over it, as well as that indie pop chorus, all backed by a 4-on-the-floor dance beat. Another club track on the album, I couldn't help but noticed it was influenced by the likes of Goldfrapp as well as Ellie Goulding, mainly her 2011 song "Lights". An interesting listen, and bound to be a single at some point, so expect lyrics from it to fill your Time Line in your near future.
"Teen Idle" is Electra Heart summed up in one song. Filled with regret over not experiencing her teenage years to the fullest, Marina assumes the role of a melodramatic suicidal teenager. This electro-indie pop track is an excellent take on 'The Family Jewels' Marina, remixed for her new found Electra Heart persona. The track could be easily stripped down and put on 'The Family Jewels', simply replace the heavy synths for a piano, and remove the sped-up beat and you have an old Marina track. That being said, "Teen Idle" expresses Electra Heart in one song, her regret for wasting time that could have been spent on other things that could have helped her. After all, the character Electra Heart IS a mess, and this is her song. "Valley of the Dolls" opens with heavy bass and trickling electronic rain drops, as well as swelling strings. The chorus on this song is definitely one of the top two choruses on the album. Marina's vocals glide effortlessly over the Lion King-esque, which sounds like the song that get played as the hero marches onward to fight the final battle. Marina has stated that it is based off of the film "The Valley of the Dolls" which deals with similar themes featured in the song. I have a feeling this will remain an unappreciated album gem though.
"Hypocrates" is a relatively slow song, perfect for a sing along around the campfire, but nothing really new for Marina. Her vocals are arranged nicely, but the production comes off feeling like a Dr. Luke track for Nicki Minaj. Overall it's a cute little country and pop-rock song reminiscent of The Dixie Chicks, not the best, but certainly nothing to complain about. The final song on the album is the only pure ballad, "Fear and Loathing". I really enjoyed this song, a slow downbeat and new age electronic ballad with the best vocal performance on the album. Even with it being a ballad, the production is top-end, Marina remains true to the musical styling of the album in this song, unlike many typical ballad album closers (cough..cough..Farwell). A superb ending to a sonically and lyrically expansive journey through the mind of Marina Diamandis.