Four years on from breakout success, Lorde goes again, with an album that feels like it has been in the promo stages all year, but arrives as a contender for Album of the Year…
Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, known better to you and I as singer-songwriter Lorde, is no ordinary pop star. Instead of sticking with the tried and tested quantity over quality method of releasing music, Melodrama, her second full-length commercial album, has been four years in the making, following her massively successful and altogether brilliant Pure Heroine, which she released as a 16-year-old.
Whatever was to come next from the New Zealander, it had to be calculated in this way. It’s very rare that a pop star has expectations bowed onto them following previous success at 20, but Melodrama handles all the expectation and diffuses it with effortless simplicity.
From the grandiose opener Green Light, the first major single from the record, we are treated to an orgy of instrumentation that hit every right chord when many other, more experienced heads would dare not tread in such risky waters. This style may be systematic of the rest of the album to follow, but that is not to say this is a project committed to floor fillers and automatic chart success. Songs ease in and out throughout the albums relatively short length with low-key and subtle nods to both what made Pure Heroine so great and Melodrama so different from its predecessor.
Lorde has already spoken on how some of this style was influenced by projects such as 2016s Blonde by Frank Ocean, but to me this album draws more parallels with an album such as Beyonce’s Lemonade, released in the same year. Both LPs are challenging, conceptual projects that lean into new creative lanes for their respective artists, and both deliver in abundance.
Projects such as these put the faith in the vocals to deliver where the production isn’t intended to fill in the gaps. And on the first half of this album in particular, Lorde is experimental, and quietly innovative with songs such as Homemade Dynamite being carved out of one of the most solid and genre-reaching vocal performances seen in a pop song this decade.
Only when do we get to The Louvre onwards (the section of the album starting here and ending with Sober II (Melodrama) is without doubt my favourite, with my personal favourite song of the album flipping between any of these on any given listen), does Lorde allow the background to swell slightly. The transition from Hard Feelings to Loveless for example is a textbook example of how do approach this type of ‘double song’ on an album. However, the instrumentation is not tearing anything away from the vocal performances Lorde is consistently delivering, but instead add an extra layer of depth and rawness that at times Pure Heroine seemed unable to reach to.
Melodrama then peeks more into pop territory to begin the close, with Supercut being a better example of this craft than perhaps any other in the tracklist. A beat that sounds like the soundtrack to a bumper cars competition underwater is given a well-rounded and emotional feel by the performance, which is looking at Lorde alone her best performance on the record.
The only songs which I feel don’t deserve the same acclaim that the rest of the record undoubtedly befits are Writer In The Dark and Liability (Reprise). The latter in particular seems rather needless and could have easily been replaced with something a bit more fitting. It almost seems like, artistically, the idea of putting a Reprise track within Melodrama was a decision too tempting not to make.
However, Writer In The Dark is the only song that actual feels like it would have been better on a different sort of project. It has the sound of a bonus track all over it, with its rather lazy approach in terms of production, especially compared with the effort that has undoubtedly been put in on the rest of Melodrama. The album doesn’t suffer whatsoever if the song is missed entirely, and it’s hard to say that about the rest of the record.
While Liability may officially have the Reprise title, perhaps that description would better fit the albums closer Perfect Places, which supermarket sweeps across the influences that make Melodrama what it is and shoves them all onto what is a sonically massive yet digestible 3-and-a-half-minute ride.
This album will not produce hit after hit that albums such as her BFF Taylor Swift release, but that seems not to be the young pop stars modus operandi anyway. An album that was designed to be more than the sum of its parts has ended up, through successfully dipping its toes across genres such as R&B and modern lo-fi trap, having standalone moments that make it one of the most eye-catching and best releases of the year so far.