In 2013, Lorde’s ubiquitous breakout hit ‘Royals’ offered pop a new angle, one that scoffed at the pristine, materialistic stereotype bred by the pop assembly line. And as she leaves her teenage years behind on her sophomore album Melodrama, you could be forgiven for assuming that Lorde has now embraced the same circle that she initially condemned. The liberating, euphoric qualities of the book-ending tracks ‘Green Light’ and ‘Perfect Places’ are certified top 40 fodder no matter what Max Martin says. Lorde has also acquired Jack Antonoff on production, whose previous collaborators include Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepsen as well as being in the band Fun of ‘We Are Young’ fame. But there’s also too much going on here to simply label Melodrama as another pop album.
Like her close friend Taylor Swift, Lorde too deals in heartbreak on her sophomore album, but these 11 tracks are also intricately concealed within one house party- an intriguing space for Lorde to fully explore her transition into young womanhood. And as anyone who has experienced a house soiree gone sour, a plethora of emotions can rush to the surface at a moment’s notice. Lorde is a noted synesthete (a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway) and in her case she sees specific colours when certain musical notes are played. On Melodrama colour and emotion become entangled in wild strokes of emotive fervour. On ‘Green Light’, we’re empowered by the neon buzz of that electric house piano riff and on ‘Homemade Dynamite’ the explosive burnt-out oranges and reds extend far beyond the song’s title and the stuttering crackle of its chorus.
But unlike the typical narrative arc of the breakup album, Lorde doesn’t solely focus on the source of her heartbreak; she explores her own role in this collapse. On ‘Supercut’, the highlights are pasted together in a dizzying montage but she soon realises that she’s glossed over the mistakes from both her end and her lover’s. And on piano ballad ‘Liability’, she soon realises that the same fame she lambasted has ironically come back to bite her. Throughout, Lorde flits seamlessly from the raging cluster of a house party at its peak to dancing on her own. There’s not a moment to settle, as the boundaries shift into new feelings and shapes. But Lorde’s dynamic vocal suits volatility. Throughout she’s rooted in that menacing growl but graduations to searing falsettos never sound forced but in fact perfectly fitting. On ‘Writer In The Dark’, she wobbles convincingly through a Kate Bush-esque falsetto as she threatens to smear the secrets of her relationships across the walls for everyone to see.
And as the closing track ‘Perfect Places’ points out so truthfully, perfection, especially in your teenage years, doesn’t exist. Like so many adolescents, Lorde embellishes this house party with drink, drugs and sex in the hopes of matching some conceited algorithm for maximised euphoria. Amidst the deranged whirr of synthesisers and perfumed percussion that realisation comes to fruition: ‘What the fuck are perfect places anyway?’ Blurred by a cocktail of hedonism, Lorde tows the line of perfection and destruction as she explores the deepest corners of this house party in the hopes of some form of catharsis, an answer at least. And that perhaps is the most enjoyable aspect of Melodrama; how our naivety and youthful fascination takes us to not perfect, but unexpected places. The most unlikely location and the most rewarding you’ll find amongst these eleven glorious tracks is ‘The Louvre’. It catches Lorde at her happiest in the midst of a summer romance, perfumed not by Paco Rabanne but ‘obsession’. Lorde is capriciously rocked by her newfound love, shaken by the violent heartbeat in her chest. ‘Megaphone to my chest,’ she sings, ‘Broadcast the boom, boom, boom, boom and make ’em all dance to it’. Such melodramatic, encompassing teenage love is matched only by the swell of the instrumentation. It serves as the record’s astonishing peak and rightfully so. ‘The Louvre’ embodies everything this record stands for. The inimitable affection, the cinematic intoxication of its many melodies and of course, the melange of emotion set to unspool in the wake of that heartbreak. It’s not perfect (as Lorde previously disclosed, that feat is impossible) but it comes pretty close. Perhaps just about worthy enough for the Louvre, maybe even the front.