Lorde Realizes Her Potential With a Passionate Record

Lorde performing in Seattle.

Photo courtesy of Kirk Stauffer via Wikimedia Commons

Lorde performing in Seattle.

Steven Le, Staff Writer

“I love you until you call the cops on me,” Lorde shouts on “Writer In The Dark”. This quote encompasses the overall themes of her sophomore album, Melodrama. This is the follow-up to her debut breakout album, Pure Heroine, an album I enjoyed. I still vibe to songs like “Royals” and “White Teeth Teens” all the time. Now, four years after this critically acclaimed album, Lorde, aka Ella Yelich-O’Connor, made sure that those years were well worth the wait. This album we got last Friday is really something special.

 

I honestly wasn’t feeling this album the first listen through, but it really grew on me. This is because this album finds power in one large story that really takes a couple whole, careful listen through the album to fully understand. By the third listen I was hooked. The songs are danceable, catchy, and incredibly passionate. I think I was expecting more of Pure Heroine out of Lorde, which is why I wasn’t enamored with the tunes, but now I completely understand the changes, and am loving them.

 

First, let me explain my opinion of Pure Heroine. I thought it introduced a refreshing sound into pop music, with very stripped-back synthesizer beats with beautiful vocal harmonies mixed in. The lyrics were surprisingly mature, considering Lorde was only 16 years old at the time. She had a distinct voice and sound, which is rare in pop music. However, she was held back by pretty basic, and bland production. I also enjoyed The Love Club EP, which was included of the extended version of Pure Heroine. Overall, I just saw so much potential in her, and I eagerly awaited this album.

 

When I first heard the lead single and first song off this new album, “Green Light”, I was surprised. I didn’t expect her to take this bouncy, bright pop style. I later did some research and found out that Jack Antonoff, the mastermind behind the Bleachers indie pop project was producing and co writing almost the entire album. And you can really hear the romantic touch he usually leaves in his production. This album isn’t a 180 in style, but it’s definitely way different than what Lorde used to come out with. Lorde also proceeded to come out with great single after great single, my favorites being “Liability”, a stunning piano ballad, and “Perfect Places” a great indie pop tune that’s full of regret. I was worried because I didn’t really feel the lyrical topics, but in the context of the album, I see the significance of all the singles, even “Sober”, which I enjoyed, but found to be the weakest single.

 

Now let me explain how this album differs from Pure Heroine. The sonic quality is completely amped up, and even includes touches of tasteful distortion and experimentation, like on the weird halfway transition on “Hard Feelings/Loveless”, full of these abrasive and metallic noises that sound noise rock inspired. I’m surprised something like that made it onto a record this big, but I am loving it. She lets the vocal harmonies that drove the songs on Pure Heroine take a backseat to the more full production. On Pure Heroine, Lorde’s vocals and lyrics were full of cynicism, as she sang about themes of anti-materialism and anti-pop-culture. But it wouldn’t make sense for her to continue these rebellious themes in this album, since she’s a superstar now. Also, during the four years between these albums, she admits she’s experienced her first major heartbreak, which is essentially the theme of this album.

 

The album is a concept album, something rare in pop music these days. From start to finish, every song connects to the main idea, making the whole album a fluid experience. Essentially, this is the story Lorde tells. She basically makes the whole album a dissection of being young woman of her age. She’s so heartbroken and can’t stand to be lonely, which leads to excessive partying, which she tells about on songs like “Sober”. After the party though, there are one night stands, more heartbreak, and lots of regret. And throughout all this, she still can’t forget about her past lover. The stories she tells are like a lavish, less druggy version of The Weeknd’s themes on House of Balloons. She shines a light on the dark sides of these lavish, young celebrity lifestyles, kind of like how Kanye West did on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Lorde and West have collaborated before, so I wonder if she was inspired by Twisted Fantasy at all, since that album has very emotional songs as well, like “Blame Game” and “Runaway”. And although these themes may sound a bit shallow to some, Lorde manages to pull the listener into every situation with pure passion and emotion. She starts out with “Green Light”, “Sober”, and “Homemade Dynamite”, where she loses herself in the party, but still questions herself. “I do my makeup in somebody’s else’s car” she sings on “Green Light”, essentially setting the theme that she’s always on the move, going to the next party. “What will we do when we’re sober,” she sings on “Sober”. And the answer comes on “Sober II (Melodrama)”, where she sings about “Cleaning up the champagne glasses.” She’s lost in the moment, but always skeptical about the future.

 

The afterparty turns into reminiscing on the song “The Louvre”, which is the song I seem to keep coming back to. I love the muted guitars that drive the verses along, and the buildup to the incredibly unorthodox chorus. I immediately thought of Frank Ocean’s “Ivy” when I heard the first couple seconds of this track, and Lorde later revealed that Frank Ocean’s instrumentation choices on his Blonde record influenced “The Louvre”. I also love when she says “I am your sweetheart psychopathic crush” with all the softness and care in the world. I just thought to myself, “That’s so Lorde,” since that’s how she’s always presented herself, starting from the weird video for “Tennis Courts”. Going back to the chorus, she says she’s going to “Broadcast the boom boom boom and make them all dance to it” in a monotone voice, as an instrumental breakdown begins. I didn’t understand it at first, but now I realize that she says she’s “holding a megaphone to her chest” and allowing the world to hear her heart ache. She’s leaving all her sadness and the memories of her ex out on display like a museum, hence the track name, “The Louvre”. I also really like the 80’s rock inspired outro as well. I thought this was very clever and engaging song overall. Then on the first half of “Hard Feelings/Loveless”, Lorde elaborates on the not so simple phrase, “No hard feelings”, as she basically goes over all the hard feelings she’s felt after her breakup. And on “Loveless”, she becomes bitter as she mocks the people that call today’s millennials a “Loveless generation” over a deceivingly happy piano instrumental. This song could’ve easily fit on Pure Heroine.

 

Then these recurring memories of her past lover and excessive partying become realization on “Liability”. Lorde finally realizes that people just take advantage of her, and that she’s a liability to everyone around her, so she simply chooses to go home and love herself, “the only love I haven’t screwed up” she sings on the first verse. I absolutely love this song, but I didn’t really see the point of the synthetic “Liability (Reprise)” near the end of the album, a weird contrast to the original, which was driven by only a beautiful piano, although I still love the emotion and lyrical content of the reprise. Then all of this turns into a crying party on “Writer In The Dark”, one of Lorde’s most vulnerable moments. She even completely misses a high note, which adds to the emotional meltdown feeling of the song rather than bring it down. “I bet you rue the day you kissed the writer in the dark,” Lorde sings, the writer being herself, a songwriter of course. I see this as the climax of the album, where Lorde fully exposes her sadness after this heartbreak.

 

“Supercut” is one of the best songs, sonically in my opinion. It’s part of the falling action after “Writer In The Dark”. I love how the vocals transition to a raw, low fi quality, then back so quickly, but effortlessly. In this song, Lorde sings about how these recollections of times with her ex come back in supercuts, a compilation of short clips. She sings “In my head, I do everything right”, showing how spontaneous her actions are, leading to more regret. And then the album finishes perfectly with “Perfect Places”, a reflection of the album’s themes, backed by a radiant piano instrumental and an explosive chorus.

 

Now of course, if the music doesn’t sound pleasing, the story really doesn’t matter. Most of the songs here are very well arranged. They’re stripped back when they need to be, and roaring with sound when Lorde’s delivery is appropriate. There are string arrangements that bring themselves into the mix so effortlessly, guitars that are ready to burst open with fiery passion, pianos that are just so raw and emotional, and of course very clean, well groomed synthesizers, something missing from Lorde’s debut. Lorde’s producers really outdid themselves. None of the songs are static, they’re always building on top of each other, keeping the listener on their toes. I honestly just wished Jack Antonoff could make his records as Bleachers sound this radiant. However, there are some poor choices on this record, like the awkward horns on “Sober” and some subtle vocal effects and reverb on Lorde’s vocals. Her vocals are some that are enjoyed best as raw as possible. But when Lorde’s voice has a chance to shine, it shines very bright. It’s very distinct, a reason I’ve always enjoyed Lorde. I could easily pick out her vocals in a lineup full of singers. Her higher register needs work, but her middle range vocals are just so solid it makes up for it. And another feature of this album that I didn’t think mattered, but saw interesting is that she does use a lot of foul language on this album, enough to create a clean and explicit version of this album, although there understandably isn’t a parental advisory mark on the cover, which would’ve ruined the image.

 

This album, from front to back was wonderful sonic and lyrical experience. There’s no messiness on it, it’s incredibly cohesive, and surprisingly self-aware. As an artist, Lorde has evolved as she has aged, and I can’t wait to see how she can follow this LP up. Honestly, this is one of the best mainstream pop records I’ve heard in awhile. Yes, some tracks have touches of mediocrity. The trap-rap percussion that pops into the strings on “Sober II (Melodrama)” is ever so slightly distasteful. But as one album, all the songs just make sense, with some singles destined to climb the charts as well. The presence of reprises on this album also means that Lorde really cares about the album being one listening experience, rather than a collection of singles, something many pop artists this big don’t care about. Sure there are some flaws, but that only adds to the stories of bad decisions, partying, and heartbreak that Lorde tells. In my opinion, this album deserves a 8/10. I thought it was one of the best records I’ve heard this year so far. My favorite songs are “Green Light”, “The Louvre”, “Liability”, “Hard Feelings/Loveless”, “Writer In The Dark”, “Supercut”, and “Perfect Places”. My least favorite would be “Sober II (Melodrama)”.