Review Summary: every night, i live and die
Imagine Ella Yelich-O’Connor alone on the F train, anonymously scribbling lyrics in a worn down notebook surrounded by New Yorkers who don’t recognize her. “Are you lost enough?” she writes. She’s daunted but enchanted, a young woman, far younger than most western musicians of her stature and relevance, and she’s hot-blooded. Passionate. “It’s just another graceless night.”
Lorde’s fiery sophomore effort, perfectly titled Melodrama
, comes from that early twenties mentality simultaneously possessed and preoccupied by the seemingly infinite opportunities in front of you. It’s a young woman’s album, a New York record, a pivot away from the vague teenage anguish that defined her 2013 debut, Pure Heroine
, and towards a more obvious top forty heartbeat, but not so much that it feels unfamiliar or untrue to the New Zealand native. It’s a clear evolution from her earlier catalogue that nonetheless manages to hold onto the singer’s trademark qualities, from her snarling delivery to her spacious post-pop accompaniment. Atmospheric, tightly produced and expressive in a way few artists are, Melodrama
is an accomplishment unlike any pop album you’ve heard this year.
With Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff at the helm, Melodrama
maintains a listenability throughout that wouldn’t feel entirely out of place on a Taylor Swift project. It is, at its soul, Lorde’s first go for broke pop album and because of it the choruses always feel big, the lyrics bigger and the drama as rich as treacle. That’s not to say she's abandoned her experimental edge and there’s still plenty of subtly bracing moments to keep the whole affair forward-thinking: take the distorted cacophony roaring in the back of ‘The Louvre’ or the uncanny electronics lurching through “Hard Feelings / Loveless,” arguably one of the project’s best moments. But Lorde’s poppier sensibilities offer a surprising tenderness in tracks like “Liability” and later “Supercut” she’s only ever teased in the past; they're her most cohesive sonics yet and it shows in her vulnerability and stalwart vision. This is the music of someone who knows exactly what they’re doing.
takes place over the course of a single evening, a house party you can picture somewhere in Brooklyn where flames both old and new have assembled to stalk the record’s heroine. Bursting open with the perfect, delirious “Green Light,” you wouldn’t be blamed for chalking the project up to a breakup album, but instead Lorde uses the inertia from her dumb-drunk confessions (the especially egregious “she thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar” certainly stands out) to portrait a young woman in transformation. She’s recently single, on the cusp of adulthood, and she’s overwhelmed - you can hear it on “Sober” which manifests the anxiety of will-he-won’t-he party romance into a wheeling bop of a song. When she’s describing the dance floor on “Homemade Dynamite,” she’s really imagining how the people around her are slowly beginning to inform who she is and where her life is going to lead her. She violently wonders, “Might get your friend to drive, but he can hardly see / We’ll end up painted on the road / Red and chrome / All the broken glass sparkling.” Dead and glittering in the streetlights, beautiful all the same.
The record’s back half sounds like what happens when the party’s retreated and the curtains have been drawn. “Hard Feelings / Loveless” is like nothing Lorde’s done before, a smoky and ethereal mist that breathes in from its opening call, “go back and tell it” as it embodies the melancholy ghost standing just behind the wheeling heart animating the rest of the record. Turning the clock back to the throes of a relationship haunting the album is a smart move that, in sequence, contextualizes the faint anguish lurking in Melodrama’s
dimmest corners. She ties it effortlessly to something more universal as her voice fades out to a smattering drum and some unworldly trap inspired rhythm - we’re a loveless generation, she says to us, we’re all f*cking with each other’s heads. “Sober II (Melodrama)” comes next. gushing with strings before eventually clattering into the album’s most obvious hip hop moment. “Lights are on and they’ve gone home,” she sings. "But who am I?”
Unlike the disposable filler that plagued Pure Heroine’s
structure lends more significance to each song, making even its weakest moments feel essential in its hazy narrative arc that runs from the onset of the party to the hungover stupor following. This essentialism is why it’s a real shame that the project runs out of steam in its slow final act. Until the cathartic explosion of “Perfect Places,” the fine on their own “Writer In the Dark” and “Liability (Reprise)” feel tedious and languid, hurting Melodrama’s
otherwise unstoppable energy. When things boil over in “Sober II” and “Loveless,” it only makes sense there’d have to be space somewhere to put things back together again, but it drags with a heft too bulky for the rest of the album’s lean presentation.
But “Perfect Places,” the album’s boisterous close, is as revelatory as it gets. Emerging from the murky emotionality holding her back in the record’s last half, Lorde arrives resilient and content standing before the well of nothingness she’s unearthed just beneath the flesh of all these parties and these boys and the youth she’s wound up lost in. It may just be another graceless night, but it’s real and it’s happening.
This is a sensation everyone’s trying to get at these days - that feeling that nothing around you matters that much, that no matter what you come out of this remembering, nothing’s really perfect in the long run anyway. The Chainsmokers thread their sadboy EDM with it, Katy Perry took a stab at it with her hamifsted Witness
, and yet, no one envisions it quite like Lorde does. I can imagine Ella stepping off the subway and into the dawn, still a little drunk from the night before and clutching her notebook as some unheard orchestra crescendos behind her and she sees the orange light of a New York sunrise pour into the streets at last. It’s that breath you inhale when you feel something’s come to a close, and that feeling when suddenly, all at once, everything seems to be beginning again for the very first time.