Review Summary: "Obsessed with the mess that's America"
It's 2021. Mother Nature's dying. Men are still d***s and women aren't appreciated enough. America is broken beyond repair. We live in a bleak reality, and Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land reminds us of that. It's heavy… But it's a whole lot of fun!
Marina has always had a quirky way of delivering messages through music. Whether it's the satirical brilliance of 'Teen Idle', or the cynical genius of 'Hollywood', it's all part of what makes Marina, well, Marina! She's the Queen of tongue in cheek. And her peculiar sense of humour is why I fell in love with her in the first place. However, Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land edges for more of a darker tone. Take 'Man's World' for example…
"Marilyn's bungalow, it's number seven
In the pink palace where men held her legend
Owned by a Sheikh who killed thousands of gay men
I guess that's why he bought the campest hotel in LA then"
It's a striking moment, elevated by Marina's dark humour. That being said, the less politically fuelled tracks fall a bit flat in comparison. The lyrics on 'I Love You But I Love Me More' steer towards generic breakup song tropes, the same follows suit for the likes of 'Flowers'. Whilst these are far from terrible, they stick out like a sore thumb here.
Musically, this album shares more in common with her debut 'The Family Jewels' than any of her recent work. Featuring a bigger emphasis towards pop-rock, songs like the title track and Purge The Poison feel like a nice call back to Marina's earlier roots. There's a great sense of energy in these songs, they're uplifting and incredibly contagious. I particularly enjoy the bass heavy instrumental of 'Venus Fly Trap' and rhythm section of 'New America', providing more of an alternative sound to the mix. 80's synth pop also seems to be a big influence throughout this album, without feeling too forced. It's not quite as diverse as The Family Jewels, but it's more cohesive for the most part.
Marina's delivery is exceptionally tight, especially on the higher tempo tracks. She still has a good range to her vocals, even if it's a little subdued compared to her earlier work. Not only this, but it genuinely feels less impactful overall. Not sure if this is a stylistic choice, but none of the hooks quite reach the monumental peaks of the first two albums. Everything seems to be delivered in moderation. That being said, if you wasn't a big fan of her more bombastic moments in The Family Jewels and Electra Heart, you'll definitely find this more tolerable.
The ballads, whilst melodically harmless, are a little dry in comparison to the rest of Ancient Dreams. It's almost like Marina wrote 60% of the album with a clear direction, and threw a few ballads in to fill the voids. They're decent songs, especially 'Flowers' which has a beautiful chorus, but they don't feel right on here. They would work better as a separate entity.
Ancient Dreams in A Modern Land is a bold step in the right direction for Indie-pop juggernaut Marina. It's an enjoyable album, stacked full of infectious hooks and tremendous energy. Marina has a lot to say about the world, and delivers this in both a captivating and elequent way. It might not reach the peaks of her first two albums, but for the most part, this is a more cohesive package.