Ella Yelich-O’Connor, better known by her stage name Lorde, was just 16 years old when she broke through the music scene with her debut album Pure Heroine in 2013. Brimming with wisdom beyond her years, fantastic production, and incredible songwriting about growing up (among other subjects), the young New Zealander was at the top of the pop game. David Bowie had even coined her as what the future generation of music sounds like.
It’s been four years since Pure Heroine, and Yelich-O’Connor is back with her sophomore album, Melodrama. There was a lot of pressure on the follow-up to the brilliance of her first LP, but Lorde proves that she still has it.
If Pure Heroine was a wise commentary on growing up from a teenager’s perspective, Melodrama is the more personal, introspective stage of young adulthood. It sounds like cliché themes often found in most pop music, but Lorde is a master of the craft, and handles the subject matter beautifully. She tackles love and the recklessness of experiencing one’s first big heartbreak so seamlessly, and doesn’t shy away from being brutally honest while processing her raw emotions.
The album starts fittingly with “Green Light,” the lead single to a short yet solid record. It’s an upbeat ode to partying while dealing with the loss of a lover, which excellently sets the tone for the entire album. “Sober” follows, which explores the loneliness and fleeting excitement of partying, and the uncertainty of how to deal with reality. It has a unique syncopated beat accompanied by trumpets.
“Homemade Dynamite” is set to be the ultimate summer festival anthem, with an opening line that has an instant hook, and its quick catchy beats. “The Louvre” paints a picture of fleeting romance and the rush that is often felt when love starts.
Melodrama takes a turn for the vulnerable with “Liability,” the second single. It’s a heartbreaking, stripped down ballad about being too much for people, self-love, and loneliness. Suddenly the tracks about partying and dancing that started off the album are enlightened by the aftermaths of it: going home and realizing you’re too much for everyone except yourself.
“Hard Feelings/Loveless” is breathtaking. The “Hard Feelings” part of the track explores the intimacy of breaking up and dealing with moving on. There’s rhythmic snapping throughout the track which gives it a certain intimacy, especially when the chorus arrives and there’s a silence between the lines. It builds and builds towards a metallic climax, which is the most beautifully cacophonous instrumental on the entire album. It perfectly encapsulates the mess of breaking up. “Loveless” arrives and juxtaposes the raw emotions that “Hard Feelings” put on the table. Lorde sings about a loveless generation, “f*cking with our lover’s heads,” and that love doesn’t matter quite as much as what was laid out in the first portion of the song.
“Sober II (Melodrama)” opens with swelling strings, and steers the album into a more vulnerable and intimate tone. Lorde asks why it all matters, why people deal with all the melodrama of heartbreak and love. It’s a very knowing song, about the bitterness of the future after being through the melodrama of the past. This is where the intensity of the emotions has built up.
Then follows “Writer in the Dark,” which is a sharply devastating track. It’s all spilling guts here, with nothing but Lorde’s voice accompanied by strings and piano. Her vocals swell with raw emotion, and each time she ends the chorus, her voice cracks as if on the verge of tears. It’s genuine, it’s gorgeous, it’s sober and real. This is the true heart of the album.
But Melodrama never slows down or drags for too long. Still keeping that heart, it picks up again with the upbeat “Supercut,” another track sure to be a summer anthem. Lorde called this track the sequel to “Ribs” from Pure Heroine. It’s about remembering the good times, and keeping a snapshot of them. It perfectly captures that carefree feeling that good memories bring.
Similar to “Sober II (Melodrama),” “Liability (Reprise)” acts as a segue into a new portion of the album, one where a wiser Lorde reflects on all that has happened, both good and bad and wraps it up in a slow and mellow reprise. She sings “maybe all this is the party maybe we just do it violently,” which perfectly sums up all the themes explored in Melodrama. The repetition and build up when she sings “but you’re not what you thought you were” gives a whole new perspective on “Liability.”
Finally, the album ends with “Perfect Places,” which mirrors “Green Light” but in a wiser more cynical perspective. It’s about being carefree, “young and ashamed,” and how no matter how much people try to find perfect places, they don’t actually exist. It’s the best way the album could have possibly ended, because it takes every experience Lorde has documented on this record and concludes that nothing is ever truly a perfect place.
From its flawless structure and pacing to the excellent production and execution on each track, it’s clear that Lorde is still owning her alternative pop element. The four-year gap between Pure Heroine and Melodrama was well worth the wait. The album exposes a more personal side to Lorde while still containing upbeat killer tracks that are meant to be blasted throughout the summer in cars with the windows rolled down.
“Writer in the Dark”
(Feature Image: Republic Records)