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Friday, June 16, 2017

Melodrama - Lorde. The New Album - CoffeeBar Kid Listens in......

Lorde's new album Melodrama drops today!!

Four years seems a lifetime ago for our Ella.  And in an increasingly fickle, hyper-paced world that's a millennium.  Can you believe that when she made Heroine with Joel Little Ella Yelich-O'Connor was only just 16.  Crikey.  At that age I didn't even know how to find the toilets on my own, let alone make an album and tour on the world's stages.  So now for the ever anticipated sophomore effort.  With a more mature, celebrity befriended and wiser performer what will come.  Will we get more about youth and growing up.  Will we get more about social media and the betrayal of commercialism?  Will we get more about fame and the fake bubble it creates?

Sort of.  Melodrama retains the core elements of her distinctive sound—minimalist arrangements and her angle (if that's the right word).  The catchy melodies are still there.  That's important to keep the kids wired in.  And her wry, deadpan vocal performances are still there, too. Another trademark.  At 16 how can you even have a trademark approach?  Well, it appears you can.  OK, so all that's still there but there are now more bends and twists.

2013's Pure Heroine was a wry and cynical snapshot of the 'disaffected youth'.  It was punctuated by plenty of narcissistic and sardonic black humor.  Way beyond the teen years but so very telling of what was currently raining down upon her at every  turn.  In reality, an artist like her had two choices.   Ignore and become a hermit or, in the spirit of most intellectual Kiwis, hit back with deadpan humor.  She chose the latter.  So now we get the same 'girl' now a woman on the cusp of adulthood, entering the big bad world and trying to deal with it.  Not original but maybe her take is a bit more original.  Maybe.  Adele's done it over and over again and will probably keep going until she makes an album call 90.  If the industry lets her.

Overnight stardom prompted by her first album created Melodrama, I think. Fame has the potential to keep creative minds hermetically sealed away from their former lives because their worldview myopic puts you out of touch with the rest of society.  Well, that's what normally happens.  But not so this time.

I'm not sure if it's a consequences of notoriety or just the result of the inevitable maturation four years on but you can feel that the 'inner life' of Ella, which is revealed on Melodrama is much richer and, likely more lived.  Hey, at 16 nothing's happened yet.  in her early 20's something's started.  So I think, for me, at least, as a 50 year old but with daughters I can see this album is more accessible than Pure Heroine.

Ella allows herself to be vulnerable and love-locked on songs like Liability (which has the wonderful word play 'Liar-bility' in the title chorus) and the challenge of meeting someone famous (Writer in the Dark).  The latter is a 360 degree view - the person meets the writer. The writer meets the person.  Both are vulnerable.  One meets her potential fan or she feels she is unknown.  How will she react?  The other meets a famous writer or they have no idea who they are?  But not likely.  How do they react?

Liabiliity also has a heartbreaking revelation that she's just “a toy that people enjoy/Til all of the tricks don't work anymore”.  Now that's gotta suck all the air right out of totem to self-love.

But it's not all self-stabbing, celeb bashing and wrist slashing.  This time we get a few more tales - drunken meet-cutes, messy mornings after (no walk of shame but hints are there).  Melodrama is an unexpected house-party record.

What I really want is for Ella to pop up on Graham Norton.  I'd love to see how she fits in with all the celbs chatting about this newbie. I heard her on RNZ last month and I must confess she sounds more confident and genuinely happy in her skin now.  Happy to be vulnerable, sometimes, I guess.  But also, she's sharp and funny (“They'll hang us in the Louvre/Down the back, but who cares?/Still, the Louvre,” she quips on The Louvre) and indulgent about being young (drinking, drugs, sex, even the romanticization of dying in a fiery car crash on Homemade Dynamite).  It's funny because a couple of years ago I interviewed Liam Finn at the National Library.  Directly below a copy of Heroine, which was hanging like a picture on display.  He called it the "Shrine of Lorde'.  There was a copy of the award and several photos added to give context.  Out version of the great art palace I guess.  Also this song, The Louvre, is delicious irony, aknowledging that very point.  It's lush, all baked in a package of digi-beats, overdubs and multi tracks and studio trickery.

Sound-wise, producers Jack Antonoff, Frank Dukes, Kuk Harrell, Andrew Wyatt and Lorde, herself, have created a much richer soundscape, without compromising the initial 'soul' that was developed by Ella and Joel Little on Heroine.  The minimalism was sometimes a little tedious.  It's more of a variety here and I like it all the more for it.  There are blips, muddy mixes, twerking noises and even a sample from an 80's computer game (Frogger?).  It's got layers, so listening will be a repeat journey.

In one way Lorde has more fully fleshed out her goth-witch caricature -“She thinks you love the beach, you're such a damn liar,” she hiss on the album's lead single, Green Light.  Oh Boy.  Whatch out, man!  And one man, in particular.  Her anger is ignited not just by the possibility that her former lover is deceiving someone, but that maybe she didn't know him either but then this is her bitter state.

It's not always like this.  So despite the title, the album isn't fully packed with hysterics and histrionics. It's not Panic at the Disco!  Nor is there a retaliation to being a pop bimbo or a cover girl gone wild - like bestie Taylor did on Shake It Off.

'Supercut' is as close as she comes to a out and out pop single.  It's hook laden and ready for radio.  The rest of the album is not for the airwaves.  It's for the headphones.  It may come out on vinyl but it's made for the smartphone.  It talks to the ipod generation.  It simmers and builds from track to track, loaded with unlikely catchy bits, from the spoken refrain of “The Louvre” to the taunts that close with the reprise Sober II (Melodrama).  Her vocals venture into a more playful, previously unexplored upper register. You get that on “Loveless,” which is a seemingly unfinished two-minute doodle of a song tacked onto the end of the industrial-infused Hard Feelings.  Now it's a happy surprise, as it's perhaps the most shamelessly poppy track but it's still peppered with prickly quips like “Bet you wanna rip my heart out/Bet you wanna skip my calls now/Guess what? I like it.”  It fades slowly, like a bit of a trick.  I had to check my phone wasn't losing battery as the song got quieter.  Nice.

OK, Meledrama is a bit of a unexpected house-party (that will be a phrase that's gonna be attached to this record by everyone).  It has a sort of theme gear around the night.  Pick-ups, drunk moments, fights, silly antics, morning after.  And sonically, it's where the really cool kids are at.  Still no Grey Goose, though.  Or gold teeth!  Post code envy is less an issue these days.  It's a break up a break down and a pick me up all at once.  It's cathartic, dramatic, and everything else you could want an album with a title like this.  And, ultimately, Melodrama concludes with the even more ironic Perfect Places - the ultimate mark of maturity because it's the realization that all our heroes and chemicals will inevitably fail us.  Essentially, it's nice while it lasts but the pursuit of escapism through these means is both futile and sublime.  Grow up and smell the coffee, kids!

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