Lorde: Melodrama review – maximum overwrought

(Virgin EMI)
The New Zealand singer cranks up the intensity on her second album, balanced by enough moments of weirdness to intrigue

Melodrama’s cover art – by New York artist Sam McKinniss – casts Lorde as a colour-dappled bohemian synaesthete. The singer’s second album, however, is emphatically not a cry from a draughty atelier. It has an unenviable act of tonal balance to pull off: yielding glossy ear-crack that will burn its way through Spotify playlists, while retaining Ella Yelich-O’Connor’s signatures: her smeary husk of a voice, her gimlet eye, her outsider’s viewpoint.

Lorde’s breakout hit of 2013, Royals, eye-rolled at the luxe obsessions of distant pop stars. Success has seen the New Zealand 20-year-old join the glitterati she once coolly scrutinised. Where Pure Heroine – her minimalist, hip-hop-indebted debut – was meticulously pieced together (with producer/enabler Joel Little) well outside pop’s sausage machine, Lorde’s second grew inside one of the bellies of the beast: New York. Little’s role is now taken by Jack Antonoff, who first surfaced as guitarist of Fun and went on to produce bits of Taylor Swift’s mighty 1989 album; his bona fides include being Lena Dunham’s boyfriend.

This resulting work is hefty enough to tick industry boxes, and just weird enough to intrigue; a qualified success. Even after the deranged euphorics of two of Melodrama’s already circulating tracks – Green Light and Perfect Places – the maximalism of these 11 songs still unsettles. Lorde 2017 is more Swift and less Del Rey. Uber-producer Max Martin might have tutted at the structure of Green Light, but fundamentally, Lorde and Antonoff have drunk Martin’s Kool-Aid, after which everything needs to be too much.

Once your eardrums adapt to the galloping crescendos of tunes such as Supercut, however, the parameters shift. You begin to appreciate the subtleties on offer – the whip-snap of the song’s pre-chorus, the crackle of the lyrics. A few listens in, and the iridescent passages of semi-incidental music on Hard Feelings really hit home.

Listen to Sober by Lorde.

Those claiming Lorde for the arty set will cleave to literate, intimate songs like Writer in the Dark, a dramatic vocal-and-piano piece about what a nightmare it is to be in a relationship with her. Not unrelated is Liability, in which another piano forces Lorde to conclude she’s too intense. Darling, Lorde’s a nightmare dressed like a daydream. The period after Pure Heroine saw Lorde break up with a long-term partner. Fame, heartbreak, partying and self-analysis colour Melodrama, and, however well handled, these themes can’t avoid being well worn. It’s left to one great song called The Louvre to supply the album’s Platonic ideal – a dazzling synthesis of pro-dramatics and originality. Lorde’s heart is a-flutter. “Broadcast the boom-boom-boom-boom/ And make ’em all dance to it,” runs the chorus. Wickedly, the track is nigh-on impossible to dance to.

Lorde, meanwhile, is overthinking her crush’s punctuation use and hymning a passion so great, it should be hung in a Paris museum. “Down the back,” she specifies, interrupting herself. “But who cares/ Still the Louvre.”


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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