Lorde doesn’t just sing about the pain of young love; she makes you feel it
When thinking about all that Lorde has accomplished, it’s important to frame it within the context of how young she is.
“Royals,” her first major hit single, was released to the world in 2013, when she was just 16 years old, leading her debut record, “Pure Heroine,” to acclaim worldwide.
Now, at the age of 20, Lorde has another accomplishment to claim: with her sophomore release, “Melodrama,” Lorde has delivered one of the greatest albums of the year.
What’s really stunning about “Melodrama” is the way in which the New Zealand-born songstress is able to blend the inherent darkness of her voice with a more pop-focused sensibility.
From the opening piano chords on “Green Light,” it becomes immediately clear that “Melodrama” would have a less minimalistic sound than “Pure Heroine.” Instead, each song is polished with a deep, lush sound that perfectly compliments, and even brightens, Lorde’s ominous vocals.
Much of the pop sensibilities can likely be owed to Jack Antonoff, of fun. and Bleachers fame. Antonoff’s 80s-obsessed nostalgia-driven pop lies in the shadows of most songs on the record, as Antonoff served as a co-writer on all but one song, and is an executive producer of the album.
The pop nature of the record serves to create two worlds in each song. Take, for example, the first track and lead single, “Green Light.” Lorde tells the tale of a messy break up, telling her former love that “I’ll come get my things, but I can’t let go.” In the pre-chorus, Lorde hits the bottom of her register, growling of the pain caused by her ex-lover.
But instrumentally, the track takes a different tone. Antonoff hammers away at the piano, and Lorde’s backing vocals to herself rise to a chant, giving a triumphant feeling to a song that is ultimately about waiting for the pain of a break up to go away.
However, despite Lorde’s increased pop sensibilities, she experiments within the genre, pushing its structures.
“The Louvre,” the story of a doomed relationship (you’ll notice this as a common theme on “Melodrama,” by the way), begins with a simple acoustic intro. Lorde sings simply about the signs that the relationship would fail (“I overthink your p-punctuation use/ Not my fault, just a thing that my mind do”), while electronic instrumentals begin to build to what sounds like will be a major crescendo on the chorus.
But it never gets there. Instead, Lorde gives the listener what essentially amounts to an anti-chorus, as she just repeats a single spoken line (“Broadcast the boom boom boom boom and make ‘em all dance to it”). In the background, the instrumentals quickly fall away, sounding like an ambient track behind Lorde’s speaking.
It’s shocking the first time you hear it. But, upon further thought, it’s easy to think that, perhaps, Lorde is using the song structure to mimic the relationship: It felt as though it were building to one place, but it ended up in an entirely different location. It’s a brilliant trick of songwriting.
But what makes “Melodrama” truly incredible is that this trick of songwriting is not the only of its sort. Throughout the album, the Lorde and Antonoff songwriting team plays with structure in ways similar to “Green Light” and “The Louvre.”
In the first section of “Hard Feelings/Loveless,” Lorde sings, of course, of the hard feelings that come along with love. But, after a short moment of silence, she comes in with a chant, saying that hers is a loveless generation, seeming in many ways to counteract what she said in the first half.
And this is what makes “Melodrama” beautiful. In playing with song structures, Lorde uses the album to show us what it’s like inside of her head, and it doesn’t seem too different from anyone else’s.
The thoughts are messy, confusing and sometimes contradictory. And the music, instead of shying away from that, highlights it. The lyrics show what it’s like to be young and in love and hurting, but it’s the way that the instrumentation and the vocals so beautifully capture that pain that makes “Melodrama” sure to be remembered for years to come.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6119 or on Twitter @PatKernan.
Label: Lava, Republic
Best Tracks: “Green Light,” “Hard Feelings/Loveless”
Worst Track: “Homemade Dynamite”