Imagine this – you’re a 20-year-old from New Zealand, and you’ve catapulted to global fame with a single from your debut album. Hordes of celebrities are publicly admitting to loving your music, including the late David Bowie (who calls you “the future of music”). And then after a four-year period of writing, recording and reaping the rewards of your well-earned pop status, your hugely-anticipated comeback single is labelled as “incorrect songwriting” by pop-producer extraordinaire Max Martin. You’re bound to feel a bit disheartened, no? Well, for Lorde, real name Ella Yelich-O’Connor, the unconventional is her conventional.
While Melodrama still has the base of Pure Heroine’s R&B-tinged sound, this record is far more expansive than Lorde’s debut could have ever hinted at. Green Light should have been more than enough to convince anyone of this right from the off, with its almost house-like piano and hugely ambitious key change (surely the thing that rubbed Max Martin up the wrong way), but there’s much sonic diversity across Melodrama’s tracklisting. Contrasting the likes of Sober’s minimal, vocal-led landscape decorated with a few catchy as hell brass stabs with The Louvre’s spoken word hook and surrounding wispy synths that still manages to make you want to dance or Sober II (Melodrama)’s theatrically lush, orchestral textures, the scale of goals Lorde could (and almost definitely will) meet in terms of appeal and artistic growth become clear. On the part of Lorde herself, there’s no clear calculated desire to propel her star audible at any point of this record like there would be at the beginning of most other young pop singers’ careers – this is a woman expressing herself and creating art. Nothing more, nothing less.
Lyrically, Lorde is certainly in a league of her own. Her style of writing fuses pure poetry with a more conversational voice, and it’s relatable while still radiating beauty and intelligence. She talks about love and hedonism as though she’s in the moment like the 20-year-old she is perhaps would be, but there’s an air of unfathomable wisdom that seems far beyond her years. The fact that across the album topics are often blended together adds to this – it’s not infrequent to question the meaning of the tracks on Melodrama more than once, and you find yourself constantly reading between the lines in the hope of satisfying your newfound hunger for lyrics that allude to multiple things at once. Stunning closer Perfect Places acknowledges memories of the relationship Lorde has been so inspired by while discussing the complications of youth in equal measure, and this balance is what makes Melodrama the perfect non-breakup-album breakup album.
But despite the wholly deep and interesting musical and lyrical concepts on Melodrama, it is undoubtedly Lorde herself that carries the whole album. Looking past her captivatingly unique voice as its own entity, she shows the astounding range of vocal guises that only a seasoned veteran could. She adopts an airy, careless teen character for the latter part of Hard Feelings / Loveless, while still asserting her own quirky spin on the starlet role on tracks like Homemade Dynamite and Supercut. This is all without mentioning gorgeous ballad Liability, which is genuinely moving thanks to the lifting of Lorde’s signature dripping-with-apathy vocal tone to make way for something much more vulnerable and emotional. Granted, there are moments when Lorde makes her way into the lower octaves of her range that sound a little off – in fact, marrying lots of time in those lower octaves with forays into the higher end of her range and minimal instrumentation makes Writer In The Dark suffer in comparison to the other ten songs here.
But despite not being the most ear-pleasing thing on here, it still radiates personality and identity – something pop artists whose careers have spanned decades are still struggling to find. With Lorde, we have something very special. Yes, female pop singers who write wholly interesting and catchy songs that have as much of themselves in it as anything else are seemingly everywhere right now, but no one is doing it quite like Lorde. This is the pop album of 2017, for sure.
For fans of: Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Lana Del Rey
Words by Georgia Jackson
‘Melodrama’ by Lorde is out now on Universal Music.