Review Summary: A solid debut with enough creativity to stand out from the rest of the pack.
It’s fair to say that female electro-pop and indie pop artists have enjoyed an explosion of popularity recently, new artists such as Zella Day and Halsey crafting decent debuts within the genre with just enough pop to trouble the charts, and just enough Tumblr worship to sit well within the indie community. The latest to join this roster is Melanie Martinez.
Martinez is a name that may have some familiarity to Americans, having been a contestant on The Voice USA in 2012 and fast becoming a fan favourite. Little was heard from her after her exit from the show until last year when she released her debut EP, Dollhouse, containing the successful singles Carousel, which was used in American Horror Story: Freak Show, and Dollhouse. Both feature again here, and perhaps have greater meaning now they are chronologically ordered within the story. Yes that’s right, this is a concept album, following the eponymous character/ Melanie’s alter-ego, Cry Baby.
According to her wiki, Cry Baby is a fantasy version of Martinez as a child, which may explain some of the rather infantile song titles. These may seem off-putting at first, and one could easily mistake this for an album aimed at children, but this is not the case. Rather they give a sense of ironic darkness, moulding the character’s persona into some sort of twisted, sugar-coated Lolita-style character.
Musically, the core strength of the album is in its singles. The aforementioned Carousel is a slow-paced but dark and hypnotizing waltz that has given rise to the term ‘carnival-pop’, whilst Dollhouse is an energetic and catchy song that revolves around the line ‘I see things that nobody else sees’ and embodies the album as a whole. Lead single Pity Party utilises a sample from Lesley Gore’s 1965 classic ‘It’s My Party’ to create an anthem to anyone who’s held a party only for no-one to turn up, which when you think about it is really rather a depressing subject matter.
The album’s clear highlight though is Soap. A dark and atmospheric track about falling back in love with someone who left you heartbroken, it contains an unexpected drop that can only be described as bubbly. All this combines to create one of the best pop songs this year.
That’s not to say some of the non-singles aren’t great as well. Mrs Potato Head is a late-album gem with the rather cliché message that ‘you look beautiful without make-up/surgery’ but pulling it off exceptionally well. Alphabet Boy sounds almost like a Lana Del Rey B-side in the best possible way, with some of the best lyrics on the album.
However there are areas in which there is room for improvement. There is a small, but noticeable decline in quality later in the album, and some tracks, such as latest single Sippy Cup and Milk and Cookies, are rather dull and uninteresting. In some places there is profanity that just comes off as immature and unnecessary whereas in other tracks it shines, and overall the album can be quite a tough listen, needing a slightly faster pacing to create a more enjoyable listen.
However this is still an excellent and promising debut. Martinez is both a skilled vocalist and lyricist and the production is generally excellent, with some fantastic instrumentals. Certainly a talent to watch out for in the future.
Recommended tracks: Soap, Carousel, Dollhouse, Alphabet Boy, Mrs Potato Head.