“All the gunfights and the lime lights, and the holy sick divine nights. They’ll talk about us, all the lovers, how we kissed and killed each other…”
Ella Yelich-O’Connor’s work has always had a literary quality to it. From her regal stage name to the medieval imagery that ran through her 2013 debut Pure Heroine, Lorde has demonstrated a knack for putting forth music that feels like a cross between the fantastical and the realistic, heightened diary entries with just enough detail to keep her feet on the ground. At the meager age of sixteen, the New Zealand native came fully formed, possessing an acute self-awareness not only of herself but also of her peers and the spaces they inhabit in a larger cultural context. Not hesitating to ask the large and looming questions about consumerism and mortality, she was deemed something of an outsider, an all-knowing sage in the body of a teenager with an affinity for the color black. Her debut exemplified these concerns in starkly minimal electronic pop, a sonic quality that Lorde made her own, one that enhanced the weight of her observations with stunning clarity. But if Pure Heroine came across as diary entries tied together by a certain disillusionment about the world, her new record, Melodrama is an extension of that narrative, a record that unfolds like a novel, a creative jump for an artist who has always been in complete control of her vision.
“She thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar…”
The album’s central concerns are established in its opener and first proper single ‘Green Light.’ From its outset, the track is a send-off to a past lover, ripe with vivid details she reluctantly spits out as though they’ve left a bitter taste in her mouth. Upon establishing such footing, the track then shifts with a sudden key change and a rising crescendo of piano before erupting into a cathartic flash of energy. It’s an unexpected turn that is jarring nearly to the point of dissonance, taking the confines of its pop exterior into unfamiliar territory. These transitions serve as the sonic embodiment of one’s emotional trajectory following a breakup; emotions are heightened, memories change meaning and turn poison without much warning. Here, Lorde takes on the role of a lovelorn woman, operating under the assumption that heartache will subside if she keeps imbibing and surrounding herself with bodies and encounters she’ll soon forget. It’s a worthy effort, but one that inevitably unravels and gains new meaning throughout the course of the album.
“But lover, you’re the one to blame, all that you’re doing. Can you hear the violence? Megaphone to my chest, broadcast the boom, boom, boom…”
For this outing, Lorde has collaborated primarily with well-known pop producer Jack Antonoff. The result takes the sonic landscape established on Pure Heroine and runs with it, bursting its seams and coloring in the existing minimalistic outlines. She has expanded her repertoire while becoming an even more astute songwriter with lyrics that come across as cinematic poetry, candidly detailed and wrought with emotion, mirrored impeccably by the production. A stuttering percussive bass is an underlying host of the party on ‘Sober’ as her concerns about the morning after show up uninvited. Springsteen-esque guitar riffs accompany a muffled rumble of beats resembling fireworks to serve as the background music for the lush romance on ‘The Louvre.’ The minimalistic claps of the goth pep rally that made up tracks like Pure Heroine’s ‘Team’ grow fangs and rip through the wasteland of love that once was on ‘Hard Feelings’ before unfurling into ‘Loveless,’ an unapologetic snap-infused outro that would make Robyn proud. Piano keys and strings accompany her vocals as she gasps for air on the haunting and heartbreaking ballad, ‘Writer in the Dark’ while she bids a final farewell to her lover on ‘Supercut,’ sustained by the memories they shared and a reprise of the keys off the record’s opener. More than ever before, Lorde’s songs possess certain emotive textures and weight that serve as testaments of her growth as a musician.
“I am my mother’s child, I’ll love you till my breathing stops. I’ll love you till you call the cops on me…”
Perhaps the most palpable development on Melodrama is the emotional range it encompasses as well as its narrator’s willing acceptance to do so. On the rager ready ‘Sober,’ she says, “We pretend that we just don’t care, but we care,” a reluctant concession that dictates the album. Gone is the indifference that came with being a rebellious outsider. Lorde has seen the world, loved and lost, and has had to come to terms with herself, raising important concerns about what happens when the catharsis ends? What happens when the party comes to a close and everyone else goes home? What happens when the relationship ends and you’re left alone by yourself? This isn’t to say that the record is solely a downer. Sure, there are moments that reverberate with anxiety, but there are also instances when things are pretty fucking great, like the instantaneous substance-induced companionship in ‘Homemade Dynamite’ and the giddy thrill of succumbing to love in ‘The Louvre.’ But considering how much the record dwells in extremes, a lot of it is also very grey, concerning itself with finding comfort in solitude in a world where parties and romantic relationships are used as coping mechanisms to distract us from ourselves. While recovering from her first break-up, Lorde has grieved and learned to give herself permission to revel in her emotions while possessing awareness to see that such feelings are ultimately ephemeral. As she admits on the heartbreakingly uplifting ‘Supercut,’ when it all passes, it’s the “moments [she] plays in the dark,” the moments that remain.
“All the nights spent off our faces, trying to find these perfect places. What the fuck are perfect places anyway?”
The record comes to a close with an existential crisis of a banger, ‘Perfect Places.’ It’s getting late and the party’s starting to end, but Lorde isn’t ready to go home. She’s questioning everything she’s been told. All she’s believed in feels like a lie, but she’s sure of one thing: she doesn’t want to be alone, so she’ll keep on going. It’s an attitude that drove ‘Green Light,’ but this time, she reaches a different conclusion. The track’s accompanying backbeat is something we’ve come to expect from Pure Heroine, but it feels nearly brutal in this context. As dissatisfaction devolves into desperation and disillusionment, our narrator repeats her central concern: a need to find the deeper meaning in the arbitrary rituals of adolescence. Throughout the record’s course, she’s searched for an idealized state of being in companionship, in self-loathing, in illicit substances; all of which have let her down. The track then serves as the vessel for a certain realization: the idea of finding a “perfect place” is just that, an idea built to protect ourselves from certain truths about the world and what it means to be a person in it. It’s all unbearably messy, both beautiful and horrifying, yet there’s no other place Lorde would rather be. In showcasing her heartbreak as the backdrop to her sophomore record, our narrator, the pop auteur, shares an epiphany with the listener. Despite all the highs and lows, there is so much beauty in the world, and though everything may never be immaculate or permanent, it is worth it just to keep going.