Track by track guide: Marina And The Diamonds - The Family Jewels
Establishing a songwriting template for the album, Marina combines a first-person, self-referential narrative with a sometimes breathy, airy vocal that straddles the dividing line between kookiness and outright pop hooks. "Are you satisfied with an average life?" she asks herself in a chorus that is every bit as effective as her four songs already released as singles. Marina's vocals wobble with a seemingly self-generated vocoder effect before a middle eight that slows the tempo right down, before it explodes once more into a beat-laden closing passage.
Track two of The Family Jewels sounds like a combination of two Eurythmics songs, Here Comes The Rain and There Must Be An Angel. It's strident and uplifting but there's an icy coldness to its Eighties club sound; not that it's clinical, however. It's disco-influenced and the rhythm is driven by an organic, squelching electronic beat with her vocals layered atop it.
I Am Not A Robot
This previous single will be familiar to those who have followed Marina for some while. It's comparatively stripped down, with a simple structure underpinned by understated violin. That is, until the chorus is allowed to pack a powerful punch towards the end of the song and Marina allows it to really stretch its legs.
A robotic, mechanical sound and rhythm characterises this track which shows an almost militaristic devotion to a uniform beat. This is pretty close to modern chart pop in the mode of Xenomania, the Swedish uber-pop-writers, but as ever, Marina combines it with her own style of acidic lyrical dexterity.
This is the song on the album which most invites Kate Bush comparisons as Marina goes down the weird-but-effective songwriting route. She hams it up with a tune that runs up and down octaves, switches tempos and generally begs the question 'how is this working?' But from the opening Doctor Who-esque melody to the ooh-ooh-oohs of the chorus, work it does. The middle eight is a little incongruous but then she's straight back into a frighteningly radio friendly chorus.
The second part of a hat-trick of singles coming in a row, this takes the tempo right down again. Obsessions is bedded on a rolling drum beat which allows her to get her story out, and this is a deeply narrative song about obsessive compulsive disorder. Marina flings out observations and thoughts as she negotiates buying a pack of crackers and muses on psychological foibles. At the core, though, is a powerful chorus couched in minor key sadness.
The current single and the third of three singles coming together here. It's another massive pop hook-laden song and it's no surprise it became her first top 40 hit. "I'm obsessed with the mess that's America" she sings and drops in references to her own likeness to celebs with "Oh my gawd you look just like Shakira/No no, you're Catherine Zeta/Actually my name's Marina". Its melody is effervescent and sweeping but again she throws a slight curveball with its staccato rhythms.
This one won't be a single, we're betting. It's the first appearance of a swear word from Marina and she sounds genuinely angry as she blasts through this fast-paced tune. Its clattering double-beat rhythm acts as a counterpoint to the sweetness of her voice.
Hermit The Frog
There's a sense of the theatrical to this song as Marina once again gives a first-person narrative in a song that wanders stylistically from the baroque to the saccharine. It's Sparks-meets-Enya-meets-Chamber orchestra. Except that it ends up sounding, as a whole, nothing like any of those. There's a harmonised, multi-tracked revisit to the chorus at the very end, bringing some sense to proceedings.
"Don't do love, don't do friends, I'm only after success" Marina sings as she introduces this ode to her own career. She's self-aware and she sings in a conversation to herself. Post-modern or what? Suffice to say, she's got her tongue firmly embedded in her cheek. Musically, meanwhile, this is a chunky dance track that throbs with bass frequencies and as she sings "I know exactly who I am and who I wanna be" there's the distinct possibility that this could be another single.
Back downtempo for this more maudlin affair. It's entirely tempting to read into this her nomadic life from Abergavenny-to-Greece-to-London as she sings "I'm rootless, I'm rootless". It's slightly trip hop-py and sparse but then she drags it into a far more dramatic and full sound as the chorus expands into life. Light piano and what sounds like muffled saxophone permeate the second half, then as usual Marina ends it by returning to a slightly twisted version of the chorus.
How many songwriters have ever referred to petri dish before? Well, one for certain now anyway. "I feel numb most of the time" sings Marina and then belts out a chorus that returns to the territory of I Am Not A Robot - her voice retaining a restrained power. Again the music strays pretty close to the Clannad/Enya interpretation of Celtic folk.
Not a million miles from Collapsed Lung, Guilty combines a frenetic trebly rhythm with a deep vocal verse as Marina refers to deeds for which she feels guilty. "I was just a kid and all I truly wanted was my father" she seems to sing, offering an excuse, or at least an explanation. As ever with this album, there's a sense of the fantastical combining the autobiographical. The middle eight sounds underpinned with a harpsichord and then we're closing the album with a chorus that combines most of the elements of The Family Jewels: drama, pop, intelligence and, er... 'kookiness'. Until someone invents a less annoying word, that's going to have to do.
Read the BBC Music review of the album
Marina And The Diamonds on BBC Music