"This is a true sophomore album, she's able to craft her own work in the way she wants. Malleable, romantic, anxious, and above all, very very real."
I read a review of this album a few days ago by Matt Miller from Esquire USA. With perturbed shock, faced with the reality of young maturity, Miller was captivated by Ella’s firm unflinching grip on the anxieties of being 20. And I didn't quite get it, he was so caught up about age, about maturity, about poise, about the ‘normal teenage experience’, about how Ella seemed to understand adulthood before reaching it - despite arguing that her age was now irrelevant. So captivated by her that he seemed to forget she's a kiwi, where there's a lower drinking age, and more tolerant upbringing, where kids adventure and grow starting from a much younger age. Ella is now in her twenties, gone are the teen years of Pure Heroine, and the worldwide success that changed the face of popular music, with a glut of influence and copycats alongside a few grams with Taylor Swift. This is a whole new world. Welcome to Melodrama.
With just shy of a years experience, Ella Yelich O’Connor is now the world authority on being in your 20’s. It’s true. Although inadvertently sardonic, that statement holds it’s ground. Melodrama, the much awaited sophomore album, follows Lorde’s artistic progression from her teens to her twenties, the timeline almost transitive as she absolves herself of all things teen, and fully invests in the anxieties and celebrations of early adulthood. Melodrama, the single word that most accurately reflects the mood of the album, speaks in a tone that many early-twenty-somethings can relate to. Tired, examined, a little dramatic, intense, but with just enough fun to make it all seem like it’s going to be okay.
For a second, I want to separate the Lorde brand from the music. All too often we launch into veneration of Lorde, understandably, but I think that we fall short of being able to look ourselves in the mirror and recognise we aren't detaching lyric from label. For me, when I look at the Lorde brand, I think of Pure Heroine, I think of a young New Zealander who changed the world with her voice, I think of all kiwis vicariously taking on the world through Ella; in a way that doesn’t involve a boat or a rugby ball (finally thanks god). When I think of Lorde’s music I think tonal elasticity, lyrical malleability, and the purest of talents singing from the most soulful of places. Despite Sony’s role in her rapid rise, I don't think any of us can remember what pop music was like pre-Lorde.
It’s these thoughts of separation that first caused me to really dislike Green Light when the single was released earlier this year. The Casio piano tune stood out as juvenile, the rest of the song was good, but I couldn't get past that riff. It wasn't until the full album came out that I could fully realise the intention of that tune. ‘Green Light’ is the welcome mat for her transition to adulthood, the first chapter in the story, the juvenile was real. Running through Melodrama, first listen, is like putting on a face-mask built out of apprehension, love, and angst. ‘Green Light’, already probably the years greatest anthem for girls the world over, leads you through a surge of cheer, only to have you crash back down in ‘Sober’, the hangover after the rush. She pulls apart the fragments of the night before, digesting the realities of it’s pointlessness.
Almost effortlessly, Lorde injects vitality to the realities of being in your early twenties in the digital age, addressing drinking, drugs, romance, the messiness of finding sensibility among the irrationality of the messy weekend, retrospectively shouting in the face of romance and past flings, hookups, and holding herself to account for the darkness of uncertainty whilst finding the jovial in debauchery. In ‘Writer in the Dark’ she illustrates herself sitting on the subway alone reminiscing on regret, whilst on ‘The Louvre’ she relishes obsession in what is probably the biggest celebration of her vocal range and immense soul. She weaves through past and present between these two tracks, separated by ‘Liability’; a stab at irrationality; ‘Hard Feelings/Loveless’; addressing the realities of lust; and ‘Sober II (Melodrama)’; which hits with one of the most poignant opening lyrics on the album.
"You asked if I was feeling it. I’m psycho high // Know you wont remember in the morning when I speak my mind // Lights are on and they've gone home, but who am I? // Oh, how fast the evening passes cleaning up // The champagne glasses // We told you this was melodrama."
If there is one thing I can agree with Miller on, its that I don't understand how someone can have so much respect for a hangover as to treat it as a moment for private reflection.
Melodrama is also a moment for us to all recognise that, separate from the Lorde brand, Ella is an immense talent beyond her years as both a writer and vocalist. Locking herself away back home here in NZ, retreating from the pressures of stardom, she flexes her muscles as a premier starlet. Her ability to weave lyric and treat her words as these malleable things to be played with, finding flexibility in her language that not many others can as she speeds up and slows down and bends and crafts her lyrics in her desired fashion. Melodically monumental, Melodrama never entirely takes one influence and runs with it, its both sad and happy, celebratory and depressing, she works with the elasticity of her talent and mixes excitement and anxiety, never polar opposite, but this mixolydian mode gives her ballads her own touch of heart, of which artistically, she seems wholly invested.
It may not captivate your party-girl alter-ego without the sing-along bangers that Pure Heroine produced, but lets remember were separating the talent from the brand. This is a true sophomore album, she's able to craft her own work in the way she wants. Malleable, romantic, anxious, and above all, very very real. I’m still putting pen to paper trying to figure out how this album really sits with me, but this is a start.
Title image cred here.