REVIEW: Marina and the Diamonds – Electra Heart
By: Ben Norman
When Marina Diamandis arrived on the scene, her music moniker Marina & the Diamonds had much the same effect as Florence & the Machine. Who was Marina? Was this a band? Who were the Diamonds? This would all be settled with a simple explanation of Marina’s Greek surname, and the potential group became a one-woman show. Her 2012 album Electra Heart is the most recent offering from a singer who has been incredibly active since her first EP in 2007. But it wouldn’t be until her first charting single in 2010, “Hollywood,” that the world would begin to pay attention. Still, her style was fragmented and her messages were skewed. Tracks like “Shampain” and “Oh No!” hinted at greatness and the artists who influenced her, but at the time others were doing the same thing she was and, frankly, doing it better. Skip ahead to March of 2012 and the release of the instant classic “Primadonna.” Marina’s style was smoothed out and polished up, but her social commentary, something that was always at the core of prior tracks, was still there and the teeth hadn’t been dulled in the slightest. Electra Heart, complete with teaser videos of future songs, was shaping up to be quite an adventure.
The greatest quality about Marina’s sophomore album is how easily it falls into place in your life. For instance, “Primadonna” definitely feels as if you’ve always been listening to it. No, it isn’t something I would call generic in the least, despite the mainstream electro/dance/pop production, but it seems like a song that SHOULD have always been there. You find yourself singing along in the first listen, totally invested in her message and her music. This is what we should be dancing to, what we should be hearing. It’s a shame that Marina’s tracks have still fallen short of international acclaim, but for now we can revel in the rest of the album. And it starts off hard with “Bubblegum Bitch,” a kitschy, fast-paced dis track and lasts all the way through fourteen tracks with “Fear and Loathing,” a chilly sonic landscape that brings to mind both Sarah McLachlan and the recent efforts from Emma Hewitt. Marina played this one smartly, not overwhelming us with heavy beats and not dragging us down with too many ponderous tracks. And they are spaced in such a way that the album is an adventure from beginning to end, flashes of energy dipping into melancholy to erupt back out into a frenzy of synths and poppy hooks. After “Bubblegum Bitch” and “Primadonna” amp you up, “Lies” takes it down a little bit for a thudding medium-tempo track about the infidelity of a man and his cowardice right before slamming back into your face with the swing-beat swank of “Homewrecker,” where Marina herself is the purveyor of scandal.
“Starring Role,” like “Lies,” takes the tempo down but leaves the drama up on high as Marina bemoans the lack of her starring role in someone else’s heart, before picking the pace up (a bit) on “The State of Dreaming,” which has an epic feel to it similar to “Only the Horses” by Scissor Sisters. “Power & Control” then takes the pace up slightly more before depositing us in the social awareness track, “Sex Yeah,” where Marina qualms for the sexual recognition of women who show their ass just to feel free. Whether she feels this way herself it is unsure, but the norm of society is clearly under attack here, how sex has become the way the world understands itself. All over an aggressive beat and synth structure. This sinks into the beautiful “Teen Idle,” which is an incredibly personal track that also scratches long swathes out of the ambition of teens and the need to be idolized in some way shape or form. The use of the cheerleader chorus as Marina sings “Feeling super super super!” punctuates her follow up word “suicidal” wonderfully. The melancholy in “Teen Idle” shows Marina’s own teen years as troubling for her both in how she saw herself and how she begged to be seen by others and the awakening into herself as a unique individual. Perhaps one of the strongest tracks on the album in both message and execution, “Teen Idle” showcases the use of ingenuity to express one’s self, something that is sorely lacked in today’s musical society.
On the heels of “Teen Idle” is “Valley of the Dolls,” another ponderous track but this one is punctuated with handclaps. “Hypocrates” is a very strange song, the title is unsure of itself and at war with the meaning of the song. It’s easy to look at that and think that she means ‘hypocrites,’ people who act and say things that are contradictory, but at the same time the title reads like a Greek name, specifically the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates. And yet, the title is neither, and the lyrics of the song are both. Ultimately the discussion is unimportant as, overall, “Hypocrates” is perhaps the blandest track on the album, but I can’t help but wonder which direction she intended to go. Before the album ends on that flowing note of “Fear and Loathing,” there are two incredibly high notes to touch on first. “How to Be a Heartbreaker” is the second poppiest track on the album (behind “Primadonna”), Marina listing the rules to break someone’s heart as a defense mechanism against having your own heart broken, all over fast-paced four-on-the-floor beats and a guitar hook, to be followed by the mainstream dance track “Radioactive”. The song hints at Marina’s issues with sunless tanning but goes deeper into the ways a person can act as a radioactive agent to another person, basically the unhealthy source of emotional mutation. “Radioactive” emulates the beats and production of many mainstream dance and pop songs, moreso than any other track on Electra Heart. And yet still it comes across as more genuine, less calculated. It’s an entertaining experience. Ironically, much of the album is produced by major hitmakers including Benny Blanco, Dr. Luke, Greg Kurstin, Rick Nowels, and Chuckie.
Electra Heart is the album that Marina needed to really expose herself musically and emotionally. Her prior tracks were either too novelty or too whiny to really come across as truly artistic, with perhaps the exception of “Shampain” and “Oh No!” What we have here is a concise and entertaining collection of tracks that speak inwardly and outwardly, all with Marina’s capable and welcoming vocals. “Primadonna” served as the lead single for the UK and US album versions, while “Power & Control” acts as the UK second single with no impact to US radio. “How to Be a Heartbreaker,” instead, will be the US’s second single and the UK’s third. These three tracks are excellent places to start on the album but additional tracks that are a requirement for listening are “Teen Idle,” “Radioactive,” and “State of Dreaming.”
CD Released July 2012. Review copy provided by record label.