Marina and the Diamonds – Electra Heart
Release Date: April 30, 2012
Record Label: 679 Artists, Atlantic Records
With the release of her debut album The Family Jewels back in 2010, Marina Diamandis introduced herself into the pop music scene like no act since. Relying on her quirks more than her catchiness to hook listeners, The Family Jewels enabled Diamandis to exhibit her clear vocal ability and gave a glimpse into the compositional and song writing abilities of one of Britain’s most talented up and coming artists. Showing a willingness to explore her boundaries, the diversity of debut single “Mowgli’s Road” alongside the likes of “Hermit the Frog” allowed her to stand out among her contemporaries and forge a unique identity in a heavily saturated market. With such ambition it should come as no surprise that she decided to use her follow up album as a means to try her hand at a concept record. Drawing on her experiences of fame and well documented desire to be as big as modern luminaries such as Lady Gaga, Diamandis set about creating her eponymous character Electra Heart.
Promo single “Radioactive” presented the first glimpses of Electra Heart and built upon the electro-pop vibes occasionally present on The Family Jewels. Like the single, the introduction of synth-heavy backing beats are a common theme over the first half of the album. High-tempo opener “Bubblegum Bitch” starts off sickly sweet and introduces the man-eater with a “figure like a pinup” in all her vapid glory. A memorable chorus provides the foundation from which the song evolves, and hints of Katy Perry emerge as the song progresses before it dissipates as quickly as it started. Lead single “Primadonna” follows directly on from this, and creates a completely different atmosphere to the opener as heavy-handed house beats overpower Diamandis’ delicate vocal traits. Unfortunately the juxtaposition just does not work and a disjointed flow emerges as “Homewrecker” falls to similar mistakes. These flaws are unaided by the variance between tracks and occasional rough transition, and are possibly exacerbated due to their early positioning, however while weak neither are entirely bad and provide a good foundation from which to build on.
Stronger usage of the electronic vibes is found when they are better balanced with the vocals. Album center piece “Power and Control” displays more prominent vocals from the earlier tracks, partly due to a withdrawn piano melody offsetting less dominant beats. The more subdued atmosphere plays straight to Diamandis’ strengths, which are further emphasized by the bridge as her semi-operatic cries reach almost climactic levels in one of the highlight moments. Similar techniques are approached more severely in moments of intimacy, such as when the story veers towards the subject of love (or lack of it in many cases). When the layers of heavily produced beats are removed almost completely, such as on “Starring Role” and closer “Fear and Loathing,” the vocals become even more fragile, and a significant emotional connection is established with her audience. Slower tempos contribute to the air of dejection that pervade the two, and complement the surprisingly dark lyrics that remain one of the strongest features throughout.
Having made a conscious decision to delve into a fantasy world, the storytelling ability hinted at on The Family Jewels was always going to be under scrutiny. The progression from ironic jabs at the diva lifestyle to, ultimately, depression in longing for a better life is thoroughly believable and draws heavily from the singer’s own experiences. In that respect Electra Heart succeeds in portraying the vision that it set out to. Unsurprisingly, the best moments on the album are when Marina treads closest to her roots, experimenting with structure more than style and using her voice to dominate slower tempos. It is when she seeks to juxtapose this with increasingly dominant Electro-Pop influences that weaknesses appear, preventing it from becoming the album it could have been. Although far from a perfect album, Electra Heart is assured enough to provide a satisfactory accompaniment to The Family Jewels.
- Bubblegum Bitch
- Starring Role
- The State of Dreaming
- Power & Control
- Living Dead
- Teen Idle
- Valley of the Dolls
- Fear and Loathing
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