Review Summary: a bold and colorful magnum opus
Maybe all this is the party
Maybe the tears and the highs we breathe…
is an album that aches at its core. Ella Yelich-O’Connor, a teenage pop sensation who has already established more maturity and credibility to her name than ninety-five percent of her fellow genre dwellers, pens Melodrama
as she crosses the age
threshold into her twenties but the emotional
threshold to that of someone wise beyond her years. The narrative scope of the record isn’t nearly as broad as its musical implications, occurring over the course of a single night. Despite this, Melodrama
sees O’Connor pulled in several directions – from the drunken parties that characterize youth’s vibrancy to the humbling silence of returning to an empty apartment, sober and alone. It’s a brazenly adventurous art-pop record that is equally as bare and candid, offering a glimpse into the adrenaline-inducing highs and soul-shattering lows of Ella’s development as both an artist and a person. It’s the kind of pop album that defines a year, and it may very well do the same for Lorde’s ever-ascending career trajectory.
If there was anything that detracted from Pure Heroine
, it was the way that the record’s sound – while well-constructed and critically acclaimed – blended together into a homogeneous pool of mid-tempo glitch beats and cynically wistful ruminations. Here, the knots at both ends of her rope have been untied and unfurled, extending her reach musically, emotionally, and lyrically to more vivacious extremes. Lead single ‘Green Light’ is the perfect example, erupting into a euphorically melodic chorus that would have been too flashy for her debut. Other tracks get more up close and personal than she’d typically allow, like the heart-wrenching ballad ‘Liability’, where Ella laments “So I guess I'll go home into the arms of the girl that I love, the only love I haven't screwed up…she's so hard to please, but she's a forest fire / I do my best to meet her demands, play at romance, we slow dance in the living room…but all that a stranger would see is one girl swaying alone, stroking her cheek.
” Lorde has always had a knack for turning a phrase, especially with sarcasm, but she’s never sounded quite this poetic or genuinely vulnerable. The imagery of her dancing alone with “the only girl she’s ever loved” and coming to the realization that she is writing about herself only deepens the emotional impact. Whether it’s melodically or expressively, Melodrama
sees Lorde splashing new colors upon her canvas…and even when it’s sad, it’s beautiful to behold.
One of the reasons Melodrama
had so much momentum before its release was because of the aforementioned singles, which define the album’s greatest sonic and introspective explorations, respectively. This is, however, anything
but a “singles album”, which is a common and honestly deserved stereotype among mainstream pop releases. Melodrama
is as unified and consistent as any pop record you’ll hear this year, with nary a poor or misguided effort and a plethora of supporting tracks that bolster the cause. The best track on the album is ‘Hard Feelings / Loveless’, a two-part track that commences with longing reflections on a breakup (“Let's give it a minute before we admit that we're through
” / “Cause I remember the rush, when forever was us
” / “I care for myself the way I used to care about you
”) and then transitions rather abruptly into a sprightly, upbeat fuck you
of a jingle: “Bet you wanna rip my heart out, bet you wanna skip my calls now / Well guess what? I like that…'Cause I'm gonna mess your life up, gonna wanna tape my mouth shut.”
It sort of feels like the quintessential Melodrama
track, because it encompasses all the stages of a breakup which, aside from sensationalized emotions and added frills, is the primary motif that surfaces throughout Melodrama
. Take ‘Writer In The Dark’ for example too; a track that features some of her highest pitched and most dynamic vocals (Pure Heroine
conditioned us for her lower register), but is more easily defined by what she puts on paper: “I still feel you, now and then, slow like pseudo-ephedrine…when you see me, will you say I've changed?
”, all before wrapping things up with the confident revelation, “I'll find a way to be without you, babe.
” The album rises far above your typical pop tropes and accesses some uniquely personal spaces, allowing it to connect with listeners on multiple levels. If it wasn’t clear when ‘Green Light’ hit the airwaves that Melodrama
would be something of a cathartic vessel for Ella, then this piece as a whole screams it. It’s a record that hurts, drinks away the pain, and asks us to join in the search for that elusive silver lining. In other words, it's human.
is just what it implies. It’s comprised of these fleeting moments of passion and heartache that characterize the extreme highs and lows of young adult life. Lorde makes more than just a few allusions to melodrama being a condition of the human mind; it’s natural for us to sensationalize important moments in our lives and remember them as far better or worse than they actually were. ‘Supercut’ actually touches on it directly: “In my head, I play a supercut of us, all the magic we gave off…All the stages and the stars, I turn all of it to just a supercut…Cause in my head I do everything right / when you call, I'll forgive and not fight / Because ours are the moments I play in the dark / We were wild and fluorescent
feels like the ideal descriptor for Melodrama
as well; the album – like us – takes these mundane moments experienced by just about every human being on Earth and dramatizes them. If you’ve ever experienced a difficult breakup or felt on top of the world during a first kiss, and wondered how it would come off portrayed through the seemingly magical filter of a Hollywood screen, that’s essentially what Lorde pulls off here. Each lyrical passage is a page from her journal, and each song an award-winning dramatization of it. Few artists could take the allure of a new attraction and make it sound as intoxicating as Lorde does on ‘The Louvre’: “Our days and nights are perfumed with obsession, half of my wardrobe is on your bedroom floor…I am your sweetheart psychopathic crush, drink up your movements, still I can't get enough…A rush at the beginning - I get caught up, just for a minute
.” If Pure Heroine
was her life at sixteen, chronicled as a Sundance Film Festival indie flick, then Melodrama
is her life projected on the big screen, with sweeping strings and production techniques that embellish every aspect of it. Despite all of its fluorescent exaggerations, Melodrama
is arguably a more open, candid look at Ella Yelich-O’Connor than anything we’ve heard before. Not only is this her most engaging and exciting work musically, it’s also her most heartfelt and personal – two traits that rarely intertwine on the same recording.
It seems as if every year there is a pop artist that steps up and claims the genre crown. In 2013 it was Justin Timberlake for The 20/20 Experience
, which arguably revolutionized pop. 2014 saw Taylor Swift exit country to make her pop debut with 1989
. 2015 belonged to Carly Rae Jepsen for her 80s-laced Emotion
. Last year, Ariana Grande made a huge leap in confidence with her coming-of-age album Dangerous Woman
has the same feel as those records. It does not sacrifice an ounce of depth or creativity to achieve its mainstream goals, and it is still extremely infectious. The only real shortcomings are when Lorde scales things back to the past and attempts to duplicate a sound that was already accomplished more successfully on Pure Heroine
(‘Homemade Dynamite’ feels like the most obvious perpetrator in that regard) – but even then, the material is quite strong and well-executed. Often with a star of Lorde’s magnitude, the goal is simply to avoid a sophomore slump. With Melodrama
, however, she takes the chart-topping success of her debut and adds new sonic and emotional dimensions to expand upon it. It’s easily an improvement in just about every way, and it officially places her in a select category of top tier pop artists who are capable of being a mainstream hit while retaining one hundred percent of his/her artistic integrity. Make no mistake, pop music in 2017 belongs to Melodrama
: a bold and colorful magnum opus that marks an almost unbeatable personal milestone for Lorde. Given her track record thus far, though, it would be unwise to bet against her.