Marina and the Diamonds – Electra Heart Album Review
Marina & The Diamonds’ second album, Electra Heart, has got us a bit baffled. The Nicole Scherzinger-esque tracklisting is pretty cringeworthy, with titles including ‘Valley of the Dolls’, ‘Primadonna’, ‘Homewrecker’, ‘Teen Idle’ and (ahem) ‘Bubblegum Bitch’. Then we find out it’s all part of Marina Diamandis’ grand plan: Electra Heart is a concept album, a statement on “American pop culture’s artifice” and “female archetypes”. Oh. It’s meta.
It comes as no surprise to learn she’s called in some big-name producers: Dr Luke (Katy Perry), Rick Nowels (Madonna) and Greg Kurstin (Kylie Minogue; Lily Allen). There’s the whiplash hook of ‘Bubblegum Bitch’, there’s the nursery-rhyme soliloquy of ‘Homewrecker’, there’s her breathy, soaring vocals on ‘Sex Yeah’. It’s shiny, synth-y, radio-ready – if not ground-breaking – pop.
“It’s a very frank album,” Marina said. Throughout the album, she invokes a range of female characters “to enable me to express personal experiences I would never confess in real life”. It’s a kind of doublethink – a purportedly candid “ode to dysfunctional love” refracted through a variety of fantasy feminine stereotypes.
Unfortunately, it all feels a bit tired. Marina’s alter-egos blur into one hackneyed, peroxide yawn of thudding electronica. She laments the emptiness of society, but offers no alternative – much of Electra Heart is pretty vacous itself, both lyrically and musically. The bite, the warmth and the weirdness of songs like ‘Hollywood’ and ‘I Am Not A Robot’ from her debut album, The Family Jewels, is gone.
“I’ve turned into a statue, and it makes me feel depressed/’Cause the only time you open up is when we get undressed” she sings on ‘Starring Role’. On ‘Sex Yeah’, she mourns the lost innocence of those young’uns who grow up too fast: “Nothing is provocative anymore, even for kids/No room for imagining, ’cause everyone’s seen everything”. It’s not quite witty enough; it’s a whimper, not a scream. Marina’s lyrics are as lethargic as her archetypes.
The down-tempo ‘Teen Idle’ is one of the album’s standouts. A sly lyrical nod to Madonna, it’s also the most evocative of American culture and adolescent fantasies. Thematically, comparisons to Lana Del Ray are inevitable – but you can’t help but feel that Lana comes out better off.
And okay, Marina’s aware of the irony; she’s playing with “archetypes”. The entire album pivots around themes of artifice, reality and deception. It’s “black humour”. It’s meta. But it’s not convincing. Electra Heart favours style over substance – ultimately, it’s unremarkable electropop hiding behind the veneer of its “concept album” shine.
Watch the video for lead single ‘Primadonna’: