The music blog that feels so good
A lot of people like pop music. Well, of course they do, that’s what pop means: popular. I.. don’t as much. Not conventional pop, anyway. I’m admittedly not much for the Noughties’ electro-pop trend. Most of the pop music I tend to like is much older – Huey Lewis, for instance – or is of the fusion persuasion, such as American chamber pop. When it comes to mainstream radio trends I just don’t find myself typically engaged. Save for Lady Gaga and the individual I’ve decided to write about today: Marina Diamandis, also known as Marina & the Diamonds. I chose today specifically for a reason: October 10th is Marina’s birthday. Of course that date should hold no actual significance but, hey, she released an album I really like this year and it was only a couple of days away. Why the hell not post it today?
Electra Heart is her second full-length LP, a follow-up to 2010’s The Family Jewels. I am a big fan of her debut. It was an album that both infected me but also swooned me a little bit; I fell in love with Marina’s voice almost immediately. “Hollywood” is absolutely my favorite track on the album by a pretty wide margin. The verses are sung over a simple drum beat inlaid with a piano complimentary, which is later joined by a light notes on a violin. The chorus is delivered over a very heavenly synth that I just love. This isn’t the only track with a presence of classical instruments, and Marina’s voice is consistently expressive and engaging. She has something of a Claudio Sanchez sort of style in how she loves to change pitch and tone multiple times over the course of single verses and choruses, but of course while never getting away from the accompanying music. It leaves the impression of a singer that is really putting a lot of effort into what she’s doing.
So, yeah, I really liked her debut. I like Electra Heart just as much, if not more. It’s more of the same, indeed, but with a twist: it’s a concept album. A lyrical cohesion that brings the entire album together into something much greater than the sum of its parts. The story is one of a pop star by the name of (obviously) Electra Heart. Diamandis has stated in interviews that the character is based off of American pop idols, namely Britney Spears, a woman she stated that she has a great respect for. I never would have guessed, because the album makes it immediately clear that Miss Heart isn’t exactly what you might call a positive role-model. She’s an entirely exaggerated caricature of Spears and her late-’90s, early-2000s contemporaries. She’s self-centered (“Starring Role”), arrogant (“Bubblegum Bitch”), promiscuous, (“Homewrecker”), and a total fucking diva (“Primadonna”). There is almost nothing likable about this woman.
The four tracks I listed above are all among the first five. I believe this was done to set the stage for her eventual downfall. To introduce us to Heart and convey to us that this character is damaged goods. Her obsession is highlighted in the third track, “Lies”, wherein Heart is torn by her obsession with the spotlight, the effect it has on her relationships, and the shallowness of the people she’s trying to have relationships with. It’s a small glimpse into the personal life of the character that gives her a much needed humanity. She may be undignified, unlikable, and obnoxious, but she’s also a human being. Her behavior has just as much an effect on her that it does on the world around her. It all comes to head on “The State of Dreaming” when the illusion she’s created for herself comes crashing down around her. The realization of her sins weighs heavy on her soul and Electra Heart begins to come apart.
The rest of the album continues this examination of the psychology behind the pop idol through this fictional star throughout the rest of the album’s lengthy hour-long runtime. All sixteen tracks of it. The album never felt bloated or overlong to me, however. Each track had its purpose to the story and I can’t say I ever felt like I wanted any track to simply move on. The longest track is just over six minutes, the twelfth track “Fear and Loathing”, but the average track length is between three and four minutes on the whole. Overall I felt the pacing was like the proverbial bowl of porridge – just right. Each track stuck around long enough to make an impression on me but certainly never overstayed its welcome.
Moreover, there is not a single moment of this album that isn’t memorable. Marina is extremely adept at creating infectious vocal cadence, lyrical hooks, and choruses that will immediately crawl under your skin and bury themselves deep, deep within your core. You’ll find yourself latching onto certain tracks almost right off the bat and listening to them on repeat for hours on end. Some of the most awesome moments of this album are the audacious bombast of tracks like “Homewrecker”, “Bubblegum Bitch”, and “Living Dead”. Their refrains are just the sort that beg to be turned up as loud as whatever media device you’re using will allow. Other moments grab hold of you with Marina’s gorgeous voice and just will not let go, namely “Teen Idle” and “Starring Role”. Marina’s delivery on these tracks portrays an honesty about Electra Heart (the character) that give them a real weight and effect.
The synth arrangements range from aggressive, to light, to begging for the listener to get up and dance his or her butt off. On the other hand, the final track, “Buy the Stars”, is a primarily piano-centric piece. The piano is also integral to “Lies” earlier in the album. The opener – the aforementioned and entirely shameless “Bubblegum Bitch” – is built around a driving guitar riff that fits the character’s rock n’ roll lifestyle perfectly. There’s really no feeling of tracks running together in this album; each felt unique, with it’s own personality within the instrumental. As I mentioned earlier, Marina never lets the instrumentals get away from her exceptional vocal talents. The synths follow her every move, complimenting her pitch wherever it may go. This cooperation provides a much welcome dynamic to the album that goes a long way toward helping each track be memorable and palatable.
Electra Heart is fantastic. It’s an excellent album that I anticipate will rate fairly high when it comes time to best of 2012 lists (and not just for pop!). It’s perhaps not complete perfection; the first half of the album is slightly more interesting than the latter and there is the odd awkward lyric here and there (the chorus of “Teen Idle” is a little wonky, for instance), but nothing that can really affect how much I adore it. If you’re a fan of pop music and you haven’t heard this yet then you’re truly missing out.