Review Summary: A really great 2021 record, full of modern ideas blended with 00's disco, that deserves more recognition for its relevance in today's society
Completely overlooked by an overwhelming number of listeners worldwide, despite separating herself from the vast majority of carbon-copied pop musicians in the industry, Marina Diamandis has returned in 2021 with her fifth studio album. For those not in the know, she is a Welsh singer-songwriter who found a modicum of success with the release of singles such as 'I Am Not A Robot' from debut album The Family Jewels, before branching out into more quirky and varied indie-pop on sophomore effort Electra Heart. Electra Heart is often seen as her apex, before third record Froot showcased some more meaningful progression, with even more disco influence present than previously, whilst maintaining the interesting mixture of slower songs that characterized her first two records. To fans of Marina, it felt as though she could do no wrong, but fourth record Love + Fear - released in two separate parts throughout 2019 - showcased pronounced strains in her sound, and killed off what little momentum she had built previously. Therefore, it is no surprise to find that Marina's latest album, Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land, released to little attention once more, despite sitting somewhere between Electra Heart and Froot in terms of overall quality.
Opening the album with the bombastic disco-pop title track, Marina entirely eliminates the predictable, formulaic soundscape of Love + Fear. Compared by the music publication 'Pitchfork' to Britney Spears' megahit Womanizer, it certainly contains similarities in its melody, although Marina's distinctive Welsh twang ensures a completely different feel. Marina is not a bubblegum pop singer, with lyrical content detailing more serious matters, and this record is a continuation of that legacy, although with more contentious subject matters. "You don't have to be like everybody else"," declares Diamandis; a positive self-worth message that feels relevant in a world where depression is rife and certain countries are overcoming the trappings of administrations characterized by intolerance. This lyrical topic is one that returns throughout the record in different forms, and is one that could easily be dismissed as typical "SJW-propaganda", and whilst it is handled in a very simplistic manner, it fits the overly bubbly vocals of Marina on the more up-tempo songs.
Returning to the music, Pandora's Box is a particularly interesting track, opening with the delicate croon of "you almost turned me psycho". This song is one of the slowest on the record, emerging from the aftermath of the scathing attack on New America with one of the catchiest melodies on the record. The chorus of this song is especially powerful, showing off Marina's higher register, whilst the musical progression throughout the song, introducing the drum beat and various other instruments that perfectly compliment the strings in the background to exceptional effect. Initially, I felt this song was weaker than the rest, but it has grown on this reviewer immensely. Scrolling through comments on the Youtube stream for this song provided a little insight that may be worth sharing, with somebody illustrating the changes in Marina's writing throughout her career. To begin with, she began strongly, then fell on Electra Heart into the pits of depression, before learning to accept herself on the much-maligned Love + Fear, and on this record she is teaching others to accept themselves. Pandora's Box is a fantastic embodiment of this concept, and it really was food for thought.
Flowers is another down-tempo song that compliments the bouncier disco tunes here, and whilst not having that snappy attitude of the title track or the all-round brilliance of meticulously-crafted Venus Fly Trap, it has its own distinct identity. I would say that this is the perfect way of summarizing this album - it is one where each and every song feels totally separate from the others, and yet has an undeniable cohesion to its flow. Of the other, unmentioned songs, only second single Purge The Poison feels a little out of place, taking the theatrical aspects of Marina's work and feeling as though it relies too heavily on them for a crutch instead of finding its own identity. Overall, however, this is a record I feel holds its own when placed beside all of Marina's previous work, and is a mixture of catchy disco-pop and sombre slower tracks that feels completely relevant in today's world. It isn't her absolute finest work, but it is one worthy of celebration regardless.