Lorde, “Melodrama” (Lava/Republic)
When Lorde appeared four years ago, the idea that drove the young New Zealander’s music was a prideful alienation from the supposedly hollow pageantry of pop culture. In “Royals” she sang about not relating to rappers’ displays of bling; in “Team” she said she was “over getting told to throw my hands up in the air.”
At a moment when social media was beginning to rearrange the way fans relate to their idols, Lorde’s proposition was an effective one — so much so that pop culture welcomed her despite her disdain. “Royals” topped Billboard’s Hot 100 and won a Grammy Award for song of the year, while “Pure Heroine,” the singer’s 2013 debut, went triple platinum.
So on her follow-up album, “Melodrama,” Lorde, 20, still wants us to think of her as someone in a state of opposition.
“I hate the headlines and the weather,” she sings in “Perfect Places.” In “Liability” she recounts being rejected by someone, then zooms out to declare that “I’m a little much for everyone.”
And the experience of pop stardom? “Hated hearing my name on the lips of a crowd,” she insists in “Writer in the Dark.”
None of this is especially believable. What made “Royals” work, of course, wasn’t the awkwardness that Lorde was describing but the strength with which she described it.
And she’s become only more forceful a performer since then: At April’s Coachella festival, she started her excellent set a few minutes behind schedule, then openly taunted organizers to cut her off before she was finished.
She knew they likely wouldn’t.
Yet “Melodrama,” made primarily with producer Jack Antonoff, is full of moments in which Lorde claims she’s falling apart.
“Perfect Places” goes down on “just another graceless night”; in “The Louvre” she’s “just the sucker who let you fill her mind.”
It’s not that Lorde can’t sell this story line. She’s a remarkable singer with a range of vocal tones and dramatic approaches.
But “Melodrama” is so much more potent when Lorde is owning her newfound authority, as in the album’s dizzying opening track, “Green Light,” in which she urges a lover to follow her “wherever I go” over a surging house groove that keeps escalating in intensity.
She’s equally convincing in “Supercut,” a fizzy electro-pop jam about a relationship that was “wild and fluorescent.” Lorde says she’ll “be your violent overnight rush, make you crazy over my touch,” then reveals that she’s merely looking back at memories of a broken romance.
What you hear, though, are a winner’s regrets.
Victory suits her. She should embrace it.
MIKAEL WOOD, Los Angeles Times
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