Lorde makes incredibly successful pop music that for all intents and purposes feels as though it is hers alone – a rare and almost old-fashioned concept in 2107. She has co-written everything on Melodrama with Jack Antonoff and they have spoken about their musical relationship at length (maybe even too much), representing a generation where obsessive self-analysis has surely peaked. This isn’t necessarily a criticism and Melodrama is indeed an appropriate name for this record, which is a remarkable success on every count.
Lorde has amped up her credentials in her pop role as the cool, art-school lyricist – she currently stands in the company of pop royals Swift, LDR, Beyonce, Rihanna and Gaga, with try-hard Harry Styles lagging far behind. Melodrama‘s list of go-to producers has increased in comparison to her debut of four years ago, certainly, but Lorde has not disappeared behind sleek but anonymous soundscapes. Instead she has created something that could only be hers.
Melodrama‘s themes are personal to Lorde maybe, and the album is largely autobiographical, but they have universally been the tropes of pop, and humans generally, since the beginning of time. This awkward, introvert young woman – and pop star, a contradiction maybe – spends the duration of the record connecting to a messy social scene following the breakup of what will become a significant relationship.
There is sadness, rage, euphoria and loneliness delivered in wordy, often seething vignettes against a backdrop of episodic synth-pop and piano ballads. In this respect her closest musical ally is Robyn, but Lorde is odder, more angular, and less based in dance culture. Songs like ‘Green Light’ and ‘Liability’, an example of each of these song types – one fast, one slow – sound better in the context of the album than as standalone singles. ‘Liability’ in particular comes alive here with its gorgeous, plaintive melody and self-deprecating desperation.
Lorde and Antonoff decided to include ‘acts’ and reprises when naming songs on Melodrama‘s track list and although this is ultimately frustrating, it suits the ambitious nature of the record’s wide sweep of styles, often contained in one song.
An early highlight, ‘The Louvre’, starts with a sneering Strokes like guitar strum and building electro keyboards making way to the killer line ‘make a phone to my chest, broadcast the boom-boom-boom and make them all dance to it’ which lead into darkly glittering, glitchy and swirling effects and vintage Blondie acoustic twangs. The easy pay-off, of course, would have been to incorporate an anthemic EDM riff at this point and lo, create an instant festival hit. But ‘The Louvre’ instead stuns with its solid songwriting but unpredictable trajectory, it’s atmospheric and immediate simultaneously.
‘Homemade Dynamite’ is more mainstream and sounds like a very good mid-2000 Timberland pop production but with the perversity of a lyric that imagines a fatal car crash with the singer’s blood and glass all over the road, ‘but we’re still partying’.
Along with lead single ‘Green Light’, ‘Supercut’ is the album’s big dance track and is packed with perfect riffs and an abandoned energy that will probably exceed its predecessor’s longevity. ‘Hard Feelings/Loveless’ documents the split and the subsequent fallout of the record’s central romance – a sing-songy pre-chorus derails the sentiment, ‘I care for myself the way I used to care about you’. A long instrumental bridge creaks and groans eventually morphing into the song’s second part where Lorde takes on the part of serial-ex over an early 90s house backing track. ‘Bet you want rip my heart up, bet you want to skip my calls now, well guess what – I like it!’ It’s wonderfully unhinged and unexpected.
The faults are minor. Songs have long (long) fades for no good reason and the two reprises (‘acts’) are new songs in their own right and are frustratingly brief, but that’s it. Thankfully, piano ballad ‘Writer in the Dark’ is unedited, dramatic and Lorde’s unnerving falsetto on the line ‘I found a way to be without you babe’ calls to mind early-career Kate Bush in the best possible way.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that they don’t really make many albums like Melodrama anymore and Lorde has made one of the year’s best by a mile.