Monday, April 30, 2012

'Electra Heart': Marina & The Diamonds Album Review


 It’s been only a pinch over two years since the piano-pop debut of indie darling Marina and the Diamonds. But in those two years, a lot has changed: the twinkling piano riffs of ‘The Family Jewels’ have been replaced by twinkling synth-pop and electronic beats. And though, both lyrically and vocally, Marina's trademark quirk, intellect and melody reign supreme still, there is the sheen of a pop polish that glistens over the plastic encasing of ‘Electra Heart.’

 At its core, ‘Electra Heart’ is a juxtaposition of opposing ideals. It is at once sumptuous and synthetic; narcissistic and searching; unapologetic and pleading; complex and yet so very simple. It is a theatrical, aesthetic concept album, an electronic pop opera that explores the disillusionment, dreams, and downfalls of love: love for oneself, love for another, and love for fame. It speaks to the dysfunctional masses, and yet is so achingly personal that at times it feels almost too intrusive. Simply, it is a Dear Diary of teenage dreams, heartaches, and vanity.

 The album kicks off with the whizzy guitars, thumping beats, and driving synths of soda-pop-fizzy power-pop track “Bubblegum Bitch.” It’s a brash, catchy track, celebrating the self-centered relentlessness of “young love,” and speaking directly from the record-centric, adoration-hungry viewpoint of Miss Heart herself. Next up is “Primadonna,” the glitzy lead single from the album. Featuring twinkling electronica, a lush, sing-along music box melody, and dizzying synths that twirl and whirl like a carousel of sparkly electro-pop, “Primadonna” is one of the crown jewels of the album.

 A haunting chorus of Marina’s overlapped vocals begins “Lies,” a slow-jamming, somewhat dubstep-sprinkled ode to a painfully deteriorating love. It’s a heartbreaking, pleading ballad, especially in its off-album acoustic form, though it nevertheless retains its emotional power even with the grinding synths and stuttering beats of the electronic album version. Dream-pop stomper “Homewrecker” is next, with its ethereal electronica, gurgling choral synths, and melodramatic lyrics about a femme fatale on the run. The track touches down again on the no-holds-barred egotism that ’Electra Heart’ seeks to explore.

 Tinkling chimes and delicate piano notes start “Starring Role,” one of the most theatrical and big songs on the record. Here Marina muses on the personal tragedy of not being the object of her lover’s affections, but merely a “supporting role.” Next is “The State of Dreaming,” another theatrical track that starts with dreamy lullaby synths and launches into a massive, melodic pop song about living “life inside a dream” with an equally massive chorus. A euphoric pop-symphony, it’s a highly sincere yet wistful track with definite summer single potential.


Creepy beats kick off the dark dance-pop song “Power & Control,” a pulsating track about the “eternal game of tug of war” between lovers vying for the control in a relationship. It’s a powerful dance-floor jam that speaks candidly of the dysfunctional power-trips prevalent in the pursuit of love. “Living Dead” follows, and is clearly one of the more electronic tracks on ‘Electra Heart,’ featuring ominous synths and throbbing 80’s new-wave beats reminiscent of Marina’s earlier work on ‘The Family Jewels’ single “Shampain.”

 Longing and teen angst is at the heart of icy synth-pop track “Teen Idle,” a superficial ode to suicidal youth and dethroned prom queens. It’s a hypnotic, moving song, with a sincerity that hints at Marina’s yearnings for teenage years come and gone, and a definite highlight of the album both thematically and sonically. “Valley of the Dolls” takes ‘Electra Heart’ into even darker depths revolving around disillusionment, Marina singing that she is, “living with identities that do not belong to me.” It’s a mellow, twinkling track, melancholy and introspective, exploring the sense of being smothered by fakes and broken dreams in an industry where even the most candy-coated promises often lead to disappointment. 

 “Hypocrates” is a sunny mid-tempo track which finds our pop-heroine fighting off the hypocrisy of a lover who places all the blame on her and tries to mold her into what he wants her to be. It’s a surprisingly upbeat 90’s-sounding song about martyrdom and pretense, and features some of the most “pop” vocals from Marina on the record. To close off the album is “Fear & Loathing,” a massive, euphoric electronic-ballad filled with floating vocals that rise and fall harmoniously. It’s a gorgeous, haunting, and cinematic drama-pop narrative of the uncertainties, fears, and self-hatred that comes with the pursuit of fame, success, and even love, and is the perfect send off for ‘Electra Heart.’ 

 At its heart, ‘Electra Heart’ is an honest album about dishonesty, whether with oneself, one’s lover, or one’s deepest dreams and desires as nestled in a lush soundscape of twinkling, throbbing electro-pop. It’s very much about Marina and her personal journey, and is yet also very much about all of us in every industry and relationship. There is certainly pain and uncertainty to be found on the album, but there is also hope and a crystal-clear understanding of what Marina really wants: to love and be loved in return. And with the polished production, opulent electro-pop, and emotional vocals Marina has to offer us on ‘Electra Heart,’ that really shouldn’t be a problem, should it? 

 Visit Marina and the Diamonds on the web here. 'Electra Heart' is out now on 679 Records/Atlantic Records.

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