Album Review: Lorde’s Melodrama
She’s 20 and she’s on fire. Four years after releasing Pure Heroine, New Zealand artist Lorde is back with something just as addictive: her new album Melodrama. This forty-one minute long record, produced in conjunction with Jack Antonoff, begins with the lyric, “I do my makeup in somebody else’s car. We order different drinks at the same bar.” But don’t be fooled—Melodrama is not your typical teen romance album. Instead, Lorde’s latest production is a thoughtful, fun work that expresses the awkward missteps, second-guessing, and emotional turmoil that define the transition from the teenage years to adulthood. In many ways, the album is a natural sequel to Pure Heroine’s vignette of juvenile suburbia.
Though parts of some songs may suffer from over-production, my first impression was that Melodrama has a sound that is creative without being obnoxiously so. It feels intuitively like it should be Just Another Pop Album—but it’s not. Rather than vapid lyrics shoved into a generic prefab beat, Lorde’s infectious rhythms sprout from fertile lyrical ground. This defines the genius of Lorde’s corpus. In her debut song “Royals”, for example, you move to the rhythm of “Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece”, but the entire objective of the line is to cleverly critique that musical cliche. When it comes to subject matter and sound, one’s intuition screams that it’s all been done before. But somehow it hasn’t—in both Melodrama and Pure Heroine, Lorde offers a very refined take on the teenage experience. This album is truly something special.
Melodrama’s driving topic is the difficulty of entering adulthood. Lorde probes the harsh duality of the teenage years; they are both filled with overwrought juvenile drama (hence Melodrama) and filled with hope for the next phase of life. Lorde navigates this maze with tremendous skill. In the first song, “Green Light”, she shows that she is aware of being mired in the muck of teendom with the refrain, “I wish I could get my things and just let go.” Yet, she always returns to the allure of a verdant future: “I’m waiting for it, that green light, I want it.” While Lorde has said that the eponymous green light refers to a signal from the universe that it is okay to go ahead and grow, one cannot help but think of the same motif in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The green light beckons from across the water—the embodiment of mystery and the unknown. Likewise, Lorde sees a fantastic life that hasn’t yet been lived. “Sober” follows “Green Light” with a look at the other side of the teenage duality: the consciousness that the party is almost over, that “it’s time we dance with the truth.”
Melodrama’s fun lines and idiosyncrasies are just as memorable as its message. Whether it’s Lorde’s staccato rendition of the eerie line, “Jack and Jill get fucked up and possessive when it gets dark” in “Sober” or the varying tempo in “Homemade Dynamite”, Melodrama unveils new surprises on every listen. Without a doubt, my favorite track was “The Louvre”, whose beautiful lyrics and use of guitar make you long for her faceless crush, too. Lorde takes ownership of her youthful pretension in this song. Consider the audacity of the first line: “Well, summer slipped us underneath her tongue.” She inverts the common image of drug use at a party; she and her crush are the drug, and the world itself is the user. While Pure Heroine was also full of reflections, these ones feel more upbeat and forward-looking. For example: “But we’re the greatest / They’ll hang us in the Louvre / Down the back, but who cares—still the Louvre.” This album is worth listening to, if only for that line. However, some parts of “The Louvre” feature distracting background harmonies and effects. Lorde should let her voice shine.
Rounding out the album are songs like “Liability”, a ballad about the inevitable loneliness of both youth and fame, “Hard Feelings/Loveless”, the second part of which offers a well-needed dose of levity to wash down the sorrow of the first, a few interludes, “Supercut”, which contains an awesome primal scream, and “Perfect Places.” It’s always easy to remember that this is an album written by a woman who is at our age of transition. So the good news is that you can dance to “Perfect Places” (and I’m hoping it makes suite party playlists this fall). But the bad news is that you might be too busy reflecting on “all of the things we’re taking, cause we are young and we’re ashamed”.
Melodrama is my favorite album of the year so far. It has something for every mood. The album, written in the middle of the night at a New York diner, on a remote New Zealand island, and everywhere in between, is a more-than-worthy successor to Pure Heroine. Lorde (along with co-producer Jack Antonoff) demonstrates in Melodrama a nearly unrivaled ability to reflect with dexterity and enchanting panache. And at its end, you’re left with a question that anyone who wants anything out of life ought to ask—“What the fuck are perfect places, anyway?”