Balances the ironic and the heartfelt, the real and the fake, with remarkable aplomb.
Michael Cragg 2012-04-26
Marina Diamondis, aka Marina and the Diamonds, doesn't make things easy for herself. For her follow-up to 2010's excellent debut The Family Jewels, she's created a sort of semi-concept album about female identity, focusing on various character types (Bubblegum Bitch, Homewrecker, Teen Idle etc) and disseminating their traits over throbbing electropop and plaintive piano.
Songs focus on a recent breakup, creating a strange dichotomy between tracks that want to be enjoyed from a distance, almost ironically, and those that pull you sharply into her world.
Opening with the fizzing, Avril Lavigne-like stomp of Bubblegum Bitch, a sort of intro to the concept (“Dear diary, we fell apart, welcome to the life of Electra Heart”), it's an album that takes the template of The Family Jewels – slightly off-centre pop songs with dramatic vocals – and refines it.
First single Primadonna, produced by pop behemoth Dr Luke, keeps a lot of Marina's charm but bolts it onto a big reverberating beat that explodes into a sky-scraping chorus. The State of Dreaming sounds like Kate Bush (sorry, sorry) fronting Coldplay, while the vampy Homewrecker mixes spoken-word verses with a stompy chorus of “I broke a million hearts just for fun”.
But it's when she's dealing directly with her emotions that Electra Heart shines brightest. Lies – given extra gloom wobble sadness by Diplo – unpicks a relationship falling apart in devastating detail, with Marina's unique voice pushed to the front as the entire song seems to sigh and shrug to an end.
Similarly, Starring Role is heart-rending in its simplicity, Marina exposing herself (musically speaking) over a toy box piano riff and drum patters. Perhaps Electra Heart's oddest moment is Teen Idle, wherein the album's two opposing sides merge to create something singular. “I wish I'd been a teen idol, wish I'd been a prom queen fighting for the title / Instead of being 16 and burning up a Bible, feeling super super super suicidal” she sings in a childlike falsetto as a million Marinas repeat the “super super super suicidal” refrain like some mawkish choir.
There are moments where the songs themselves aren't quite interesting enough to prop up Marina's voice; and the inclusion of the teaser single Radioactive would have perked up a second half that sags slightly. But these are minor quibbles. Electra Heart manages to balance the ironic and the heartfelt, the quirky and the mainstream, the real and the fake with remarkable aplomb.