REPUBLICLAVA • 2017
BY: STACEY ANDERSONJUNE 16 2017
Lorde captures emotions like none other. Her second album is a masterful study of being a young woman, a sleek and humid pop record full of grief and hedonism, crafted with the utmost care and wisdom.
“Fluorescent”—has there ever been a better descriptor for first love? When Lorde sings it to the empty space beside her on “Supercut,” toward the end of her shining record Melodrama, we share a bit of her noted synesthesia: We see that bright, electrode glow of possibility, feel its siren shine on our faces. That neon is too beautiful to last, though; its buzz requires an effortful chemistry.
But when it is gone, the rest need not pale by comparison. The same could be said for one’s teenage years, which the 20-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor exits so graciously on this album. That formative era is a fraught time for girls, a dizzying span in which they’re most sought for beauty and cultural cachet yet their perspectives are forcefully minimized. Hear a song from a singer who taps their first euphorias, but know it’s merely real adults’ “fetishization.” Try to understand your ever-changing physiology, then have a porcine politician insist that it’s not yours to protect. And the growing pains feel endless; while it is horrible to be a teen girl who isn’t taken seriously by society, it’s even worse being a young woman unsure what to do with the autonomy that threatens it.
Melodrama is Lorde’s study of being a young woman finding her own conviction in unsteady circumstances. Sometimes, this also involves being single—a breakup and a raucous house party serve as thematic through-lines—but romance is only part of the album’s script. In the difficult, exhilarating course of the record, written largely when Lorde was 18 and 19, her true reward comes with her embrace of self. As a nod to her clearest pop forbearer, her peace is in accepting that she will, sometimes, end up dancing on her own.
Like her 2013 debut Pure Heroine, Melodrama is a work of sleek self-possession, packed with bursts of peculiar rhymes and production that confound expected song formulas. However, while Heroine cast off the trappings of materialism atop spacious trip-pop, Melodrama catches the mist off of New Wave rhythms that befit the name. (Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff, in his first production for Lorde, leaves a pliant and romantic thumbprint throughout; Heroine veteran Joel Little also returns.) Its first single and opening track, “Green Light,” casts a long shadow in its anthemic bliss. There’s a reason Max Martin called the New Zealander’s approach “incorrect songwriting”—by no Top 40 rubric should her song fire off, within its first 60 seconds, a spectral synthesizer wobble, a strident line of house piano, a subterranean vocal plunge, and an apropos-of-nothing gear shift that feels like storm clouds ebbing to the sun. Her lyrics, too, occupy an underexplored space; reams have been written about volatile breakups and last-call debauchery, but Lorde rages in a self-aware hedonism, reckless in grief yet knowing that tomorrow her heart will begin to heal. (“But I hear sounds in my mind/Brand new sounds in my mind,” she exults, after thoroughly mocking the bastard in falsetto sing-song.)
This breakup continues to provide fodder in her keening, Kate Bush falsetto warble on “Writer in the Dark” and the creaky, atonal electronic rasp of “Hard Feelings/Loveless.” When she sways alone in “Liability,” wondering if she’s too complicated to find love, it is heartrending and uncomfortably relatable. But the album is no saccharine journal entry by any means. Her party has pills, dresses rumpled on the floor, no absence of profanity, and a sense of humor, too: the moxie it takes to not only acknowledge your extravagant emotional contortions, but wink at them drolly by calling the whole thing a Melodrama.
Her percussive delivery, both in her smoky lower register and lean falsetto, cuts sharpest in the bacchanalian bangers. “Sober” folds humid brass into a stutter that lightly recalls her Heroine hit “Royals,” along deft turns of phrase that suggest even in her imbibing, she’s too sharp to turn off self-scrutiny (“Midnight, lose my mind, I know you’re feeling it too/Can we keep up with the ruse?”). She’s a touch self-deprecating in the height of the party (“Homemade Dynamite”) and tenfold pensive as it wears down (“Perfect Places”). The record’s bittersweet trajectory feels not unlike Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Fever to Tell, intent on capturing both the carousing and the come-down in one breathless spree.
And the places Lorde goes on Melodrama really are special, particularly “The Louvre.” This track, in its gleaming synths and heartswell harmonies, captures an immersive bliss, a shared frequency of love just as irrepressibly grandiose as its sound. It’s the kind of connection that, even once it’s gone, lightens your bones forever. Whatever the next “Gossip Girl” is—whatever soapy serial next attempts to harness the teen zeitgeist with plush fabrics and sharp cheekbones—“The Louvre” will probably soundtrack its climactic moment. But as Lorde’s voice rises in it, awed in adoration as she whispers, “Well, summer slipped us underneath her tongue/Our days and nights are perfumed with obsession,” whatever’s onscreen can’t match her luminosity. It’s not enough to say Lorde is one in a generation. Really, it’s amazing this is the first time she was a teenager for how good she was at it.