There was a time when I regularly bought LPs on their day of release, even to the point of waiting outside music shops so as to rush inside the minute they opened so as to be heading homewards with a brand new LP clutched in my sweaty paw by 9.01 am. Happy days. Since the advent of the CD and now Downloads that initial enthusiasm has waned for the most part although some items have been snapped up immediately but these days that just means clicking the pre-order button.
Despite my aging cynicism, there is one album that I have been awaiting for some few months and it is ‘Electra Heart’ by the strangely accented Marina Diamandis (or
Marina and the Diamonds
as she has styled herself). When her
debut, ‘The Family Jewels’ arrived in 2010 I decided to give it a listen
despite the hype from the music press and found that there was substance to the
hyperbole. In fact it turned out to be
one of my favourite albums of the year, melding astute lyrics to crafted
melodies sung in that peculiar half Welsh, half Greek accent. It sounded different. It was different.
So her follow up album has been on my list ever since and as the months have passed, it has grown into a must buy. Hence my first day of release purchase like the awe-struck teenager that I once was. But was it worth it? Now read on.
Well, after several plays I can report that the voice is still as beguiling as it ever was. That low register growl that shoots up to a pure falsetto inflected with that kooky Welsh/Greek accent is one of pop’s most unique instruments. Also present and correct are the thoughtful yet pointed lyrics. I haven’t found myself really listening to what a song is actually saying since ooh…the days of Joni Mitchell in the 70s. She really does have a way with words, this girl.
Nevertheless, as with many second albums, the music is not quite up to the standard of ‘Family Jewels’. There are exceptions, like the storming opener ‘Bubblegum Bitch’ and the atmospheric closer ‘Fear and Loathing’ and one or two in between but generally, it is not quite as consistent, but this was almost inevitable given the quality of FJ. My feeling is that
Marina wants to be a star and is prepared to
be drawn into the ‘star-making machinery’ (to quote the aforementioned Ms
Mitchell). There are no less than 8
producer/writers credited on this album, one of them being star-maker writer
himself, Rick Nowells. As a result, the
album is all over the place, style-wise and struggles for consistency. It lurches from crunching cutting edge
synthesised ‘beats’ one minute to old-school rock arrangements the next. Little Boots’ debut ‘Hands’ suffered the same
way – it seems that the current music industry is so paranoid of failure that
it will dress up all potential new talent with a slick everything-but-the-kitchen-sink
production believing this will make them mass audience friendly rather than
letting them breathe by themselves.
But in the case of Ms Diamandis, I can’t help feeling that all this paraphernalia is totally unnecessary. The fact is that
Marina has the most
important tools required to be a star already on board – her unique voice and
her undoubted song writing ability, both with tunes and lyrics. The issue with this album is that both are
submerged in a mess of over-production and too many song writing
collaborations. Aimee Mann and Nerina
Pallot have also been pushed down the ‘must collaborate’ path and it didn’t
work for them either. ‘Fear and Loathing’ and the excellent 'Teen Idle' are by far the best songs in the set and she wrote them by
Despite all this, I still like ‘Electra Heart’, and seeing the ‘acoustic’ versions of some of the songs on YouTube just confirms my views about production (see video attached to this post).
please just take a deep breath, write some great songs and find a producer who
will set them sympathetically to show off your thought-provoking lyrics and
that fascinating voice. Those are your
USPs - not an all-enveloping production.
You don’t need to be Katy Perry to succeed.