Lorde – “Melodrama”

Photo Credit: Genius

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Green Light,” “Hard Feelings/Loveless,” “Perfect Places”

The first album from New Zealand singer Lorde, 2014’s wonderful instant classic “Pure Heroine,” was a bit of an anomaly. Lorde’s lyrics shadowed the fact that she was literally a teenager – they coupled the life of suburbia with the dreams of luxuries she heard about in Drake and Kanye songs. But musically, the album couldn’t have been further from what a bored teenaged pop singer usually creates. The album was a quiet blast of minimalism, with short, mild songs more in the realm of The xx than anything else. It was a refreshing turn for a young singer. But it also left people wondering whether her follow-up would try to replicate the style, or whether Lorde would grow her music.

Unsurprisingly, Lorde grew. The album’s opening track and lead single, “Green Light,” is a tongue-in-cheek look at this. The opening line, “I do my make-up in somebody else’s car,” could easily come out of a Lorde parody song, and is sung over faint piano. But within a minute the song does literally grow into a big, extremely danceable pop song. This album, in certain ways, could not sound more different than “Heroine.” While Lorde sounded comfortable in that album’s small sound, here she often sounds like she’s trying to free herself from a restraint (often successfully). “Green Light” lacks a breakdown because Lorde sings over it at the same volume she was already going at. On this album she has both more range and more bite. On “Writer in the Dark” she coolly sings “I love you till my breathing stops / I love you till you call the cops on me” over two menacingly out-of-tune piano notes. On “The Louvre,” she surrounds herself with the most orchestral music she’s made, which makes the painful quietness of immediate follow-up “Liability” all the more real.

But the best example of this newfound, punching-up attitude is found on the first half of “Hard Feelings/Loveless.” The “Hard Feelings” portion of the song expands into industrial territory – yes, industrial territory. Lorde’s vocals completely disappear for a noisy interlude that wouldn’t have felt out of place on “Pretty Hate Machine.” It’s a real punch in the gut to hear it halfway into a pop album. It’s worth noting that Lorde worked with Jack Antonoff on this album, a man who isn’t new to elevating female singers and pushing them in new directions. The album, as a whole, is far more musical than before. There are multiple songs with instrumental fade-outs and moments where Lorde gives way to the music behind her. She’s not hidden, though – she still dominates every song in her own ways.

“Melodrama” might be the most appropriately-titled album of the year. While it is taken from a song, the whole album has an umbrella of melodrama to it. Lorde, now 20, seems stuck in the same lyrical ennui that birthed her first album. But here she is more direct while also more unhinged. Gone are the references to diamonds and luxury, the metaphors and vocal inspirations taken from other genres (except the way Lorde sings the chorus in the excellent “The Louvre”) She’s bored in relationships, counting the days until it ends. She’s alone in clubs, sometimes by choice and sometimes not. “Melodrama,” even more than “Heroine,” shows the personal troubles and misunderstood complexity of being a young woman. And although she may be native to New Zealand, the general ‘stuck’ feeling throughout wouldn’t sound out of place coming from a Midwestern act. Many of the album’s songs could easily be translated into the music of a young but learned country singer.

Lorde’s growth as a singer is completely natural on this album, and it isn’t even necessarily a growth that would usually be called “maturity.” Her image was so well solidified on “Heroine” and it came off so earnestly that this album feels more like a reaction, rather than a separate entity. And on a bigger and simpler note, it also proves that Lorde isn’t going to be a one-off (not that we were particularly worried). “Melodrama” is a surprisingly well-rounded package, one that highlights and intensifies the emotions she had already conquered, while also pushing her volume and ambition levels far past what listeners were used to. A week removed from Katy Perry’s disastrous push into new ground, we get the album we might deserve – a pop singer pushing herself to the edge of her capabilities without intentionally going overboard.

-By Andrew McNally

Lorde – “Pure Heroine”

(Photo Credit: http://www.ddotomen.com)

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Royals,” “A World Alone”

Taylor Swift is twenty-three years old. Lorde, an up-and-coming singer from New Zealand, is seven years younger than her. But Lorde’s sound is already established and much more mature than Swift’s is. And she’s ousted Jake Bugg as 2013′s best new sixteen year old artist (sorry Jake). Lorde’s various singles and her “Love Club EP” have all been released within the last year, and have been strong enough to give her the meteoric rise to fame she’s enjoyed over the past two months. Her full-length, “Pure Heroine,” delivers on the minimalist pop her early singles have promised.

Fans of her hit “Royals” notice a medium tempo and a very relaxed attitude, and it’s consistent through the album. Opener “Tennis Court,” one of the three previously established songs on the album (the others being “Royals” and “Team”) sets the tone, with Lorde singing about arguments and iPhones over a synth drone. “400 Lux” sets a little more of a melodic tone – more rhythmic and a little faster, before transitioning into the minimalistic and extremely catchy big hit “Royals.” “Ribs” is a dreamier song, with both Lorde and the backing beat building up to a reverb climax that sounds like more of a finale. The next few tracks succumb to the minimalist idea too much and, although certainly not bad, aren’t as catchy or memorable. “White Teeth Teens” brings the tempo back up before leading into the great finale “A World Alone.”

Joel Little produced the album and is listed as a co-writer on six of the album’s ten songs, but Lorde still contributes enough of her own self to be a surprise for a sixteen year old. Her voice is impeccable, sometimes melodically beautiful, sometimes just a little gritty. And her lyrics are very poetic and mature, especially given what our other teen stars have given us lately. Lorde has been very influenced by royalty, and her mature look at the world is refreshingly original (and probably honest, “Royals” was written in 30 minutes). Musically, she took influence from Lana Del Ray, and that’s a little too apparent at times. But for the most part, pop, R&B, even doo-wop gets mixed together and watered down into some great minimal art pop. It’s tough to say whether Lorde will become huge, or if her music will eventually disconnect from audiences, but for now she’s given us a pretty solid and memorable debut.

-By Andrew McNally