Album: Marina & the Diamonds – “Electra Heart” (2012)

Much delayed, but I’ve finally tackled the second album by Welsh critics favourite (or at least she was when she did her first album) Marina & The Diamonds. She’s a solo artist despite the name, and had a decent breakthrough with debut album “The Family Jewels”, including the amazing “I am not a robot”.

The comeback felt a little disjointed, with inital buzz around single “Radioactive” not really crystallising into sales, and after a re-think the album was launched earlier this year without the song. Despite comfortable out-peaking her debut album on home turf with a rather shock No.1, the album didn’t have any longevity and as I write this possibly hasn’t sold even half of “The Family Jewels” modest total.

Still, when have poor record sales determined the quality of an album? Will this be a hidden gem? (ugh, sorry she’s just asking for jewel-based puns isn’t she?)

09 Bubblegum Bitch – Opening with a punch uptempo pop track now, and returning to the cute bimbo style of some of the sweeter moments of “The Family Jewels” like “Oh No!”. That chorus is pretty great, very catchy and instant. The tempo is straightforward and pacey, I love it. It reminds me a bit of Toni Basil actually, which is no bad thing (in small doses). Why didn’t she use this as a single, considering all the dead ducks she’s released so far?

08 Primadonna – About the only hit she managed to wring out of this campaign, and harking back to her earlier sound a bit. Her voice is sickly sweet for the organ-backed intro, but a big squelchy electro beat kicks in and we are on even more familiar sound for her. It’s sort of Gwen Stefani-esque in places, which for me at least is a good thing. I like the two different sounds to this song, which keeps going back and forth between cutesy and ballsy. It’s not got a great hook in the way her “Jewels” singles did, but not bad.

07 Lies – Downtempo now, and a bit of a breakup song. Poor Marina’s been cheated on, and is attempting a rather toothless chewing-out of her lover. Sure he cheated but she doesn’t want to lose him. It’s got a note of desperation in there, which is starting to resonate a little bit the more I listen to it. I like the bridges, even if the chorus is a bit of a drag. Decent.

08 Homewrecker – The spoken intro is a bit clunky and pseudo-intellectual, can’t say I’m too keen, but luckily she’s right into the meat of the song before long. Femme Fatale time now, as Marina assumes the role of the titular slut. Actually the chorus and tempo is about all this one’s got going for it, but these songs are so short that’s not much of a handicap. I just don’t like those talky bits.

09 Starring Role – A slowie now, and one of the standout tracks for me. Her voice does get on my nerves a bit when she’s always in that upper register, but it fits this tune nicely. Not sure what she’s getting at with this one, she wants to be the centre of attention but it seems to be wrecking her relationship. It’s got a bit of a melancholy note to it, like “let’s just get drunk, forget we don’t get on”. But then she drops bitch-bombs like “send my best regards from hell”. Maybe the guy’s playing around with another woman and she’s not having it? A bit muddled but I really like it.

08 State of dreaming – In some ways this album reminds me of Nicola Roberts’ solo debut, there are just musical moments that have that same sort of atmosphere. A few moments in this song are like that, though this is a bit of an indulgent ballad. It sounds lovely, but I’m grateful when the tempo suddenly picks up into an almost Coldplay-sounding bittersweet but big track. That’s a weird comparison, but it’s only meant in a good way. It really develops nicely, except that rather shrill middle-eight.

07 Power & Control – Maybe this is the point where her muddled-sound and samey vocal tone get a bit much for me. I mean I can see why this was pushed as a single (unsuccessfully), the chorus is memorably simple, and I do like the general feel of the production but there’s just something a bit missing here.

07 Living Dead – No I was wrong, THIS is the point I’m getting a bit bored. Those opening lyrics are just nonsense, and just gets on my nerves. But despite myself, I love that chorus. Living de-de-de-dead, whatever it’s about, it’s just a good hook. Just the verses don’t support this song well enough.

06 Teen Idle – No THIS is where I get bored… sigh, why do all the songs have some big saving grace, it’s making a mockery of my scoring system. A bit of a flimsy first minute, just reeling off lists of stuff she wants to be. Didn’t we have this already? I feel that “Oh No” covered that whole “Oh I’m such a complicated contradiction of a person”, but that at least had some punch to it (literally in some places, I remember some boxing gloves being involved).

05 Valley of the dolls – More maudlin wailing, is she trying to be Florence? I can’t say this is doing much for me at all, though I do like that “in the Valley” refrain. But that’s a very slim portion of the song, and the rest is just a nondescript midtempo. Why couldn’t we have had more songs like Bubblegum Bitch?

07 Hypocrates – A similar tempo to “Valley of the Dolls”, but things are a little more upbeat and optimistic. It’s nice enough to listen to – in fairness this album as a whole doesn’t really drag – and it even has a reasonably likeable chorus. It’s just a bit nothingy, with a few nice moments. Sort of like the bulk of female singer-songwriters in the mid-00s, I vaguely like it, but I’d struggle to recall it.

08 Fear and Loathing – A dramatic finish to a pretty brief album (perhaps it’s a good thing for the songs not to outstay their welcome). Finally she gets one of her atmosphere pieces, even if a 6-minute epic wasn’t quite necessary. Just builds well, and her voice doesn’t get on my nerves too much. The lyrics are a bit clunky, she was determined to rhyme as many things as she could, wasn’t she? Hangs together well and doesn’t get too drawn out.

Well it’s not a perfect album, but it’s certainly something I can listen to from start to finish without getting too tempted to skip tracks. The less desirable tracks are almost over by the time they register on my annoying radar, and the result is a pretty tight album. She might be preoccupied with having a persona to really let loose with some great pop songs, but maybe the commerically dry period she’s found herself in (with a new potential for international success if she plays her cards right) could yet be turned around.

It looks like there’s some sort of re-issue on the cards, and there’s no guarantee it’ll work but I hope she at least gets a chance to go for broke with another album.

Keepers for the iPod: Bubblegum Bitch, Starring Role, State of Dreaming

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