Review Summary: The revitalization of Lorde
Not since Russell Crowe's crazy phone-throwing ass started enchanting audiences back in the late 90's has as a New Zelander made as much of an impact on the pop culture landscape as Lorde did with her 2013 debut LP Pure Heroine
. The then 16-year old became a household name following the breakout success of her singles "Royals" and "Team" while simultaneously accumulating a ton of critical praise for her dark, minimalist sound that was radically different from anything else on Top 40 radio at the time. Pure Heroine
also ended up having a notable influence on the genre and gave birth to an entire wave of artists that wanted to mimic Lorde's success (Halsey, Melanie Martinez, Alessia Cara) in the melancholy pop realm. After heading into seclusion for a couple of years following her rapid rise to worldwide stardom, the 20-year old has finally returned to the spotlight with her sophomore LP Melodrama
, which should only further solidify Lorde's status as one of pop music's strongest acts.
Whenever a young artist returns to music after a lengthy hiatus, the petty anxiety sensors that are embedded into every music nerd's brain go into overdrive. Did this time off effect their creative process? Are they coming back energized or are they just going to loaf through a record for a paycheck? Did they develop a new sound during their time away from the public eye and if so, will this stylistic change be well-executed? In Lorde's case, this preemptive panic can be written off as an unjustified and unfair lack of faith in her artistic ability. The time she spent away from music allowed her to clean up all of the issues that dragged down Pure Heroine
and more importantly, gave her an opportunity to further grow as an artist.
By adding new wrinkles to her musical arsenal while retaining the most endearing elements of her previous work, Melodrama
is able to accomplish what just about every musician strives to do with a new release. The low-key atmosphere and striking emotional core that made Pure Heroine
such an attention-grabbing release are still at heart of this record, but this record is much more focused on introspection and straightforward pop sensibilities than its predecessor. The numerous highlight tracks ("Sober", "Homemade Dynamite", "Writer in the Dark") that are sprinkled throughout the record feature some strong insight into Lorde's post-breakup mental state while also displaying a gift for crafting massive hooks that was nowhere to be found on her older projects. The inclusion of more deeply personal lyrics and songwriting that features an enhanced focus on pure pop catchiness may sound like pretty minimal changes on paper, but they help give Melodrama
a lot more depth, diversity and replay value than its predecessor.
While Lorde's tweaks to her already distinct sound is at the center of Melodrama's
success, producer/co-songwriter Jack Antonoff played a critical role in helping make this record into something special. The booming piano lines and sweeping string arrangements that define the ex-fun. guitarist/Bleachers frontman's production style maximizes the effectiveness of Lorde's music. As distinct as Joel Little's bare-bones production was on Pure Heroine
, the sparse instrumentation didn't allow her to experiment with different tempos or utilize anything other than her normal low, raspy voice. The dense, textured soundscapes Antonoff lays down here gives Lorde the freedom to showcase the full scope of her vocal range and take some detours into more "upbeat" ("Green Light", "Supercut", "Perfect Places") territory without losing the raw quality that makes her music so intimate. Antonoff's contributions to Melodrama
are invaluable and I really hope they don't get glazed over when people look back this record a few years down the line.
further supports the narrative that Lorde is a transcendent talent. The level of intelligence, emotional transparency and unique vocal capabilities she possesses blows away the vast majority of her peers in the world of pop music, and given her super young age, it's entirely possible that she hasn't even begun to reach the peak of her potential as an artist. It's going to be very difficult for Lorde to continue delivering such bold, unique music, but based on everything she's put out so far, there's no reason to doubt her ability to keep innovating and inspiring hordes of copycat artists for years to come.