Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Review: 'Pure Heroine' by Lorde

Now, if you've been following any music media lately you're already probably familiar with Lorde, the 16-year-old pop sensation from New Zealand and especially her critically acclaimed debut song "Royals" that has topped charts everywhere from UK and Canada to New Zealand and Ireland not to mention various Billboard charts in the US (5, to be precise). Quite an achievement from someone that young - I mean, what were you doing at the age of 16?

We could indeed be witnessing a meteoric rise to fame here: she's already become a bit of an internet phenomenon. However, the pattern isn't exactly unheard of: a promising, somewhat different singer-songwriter who's launched into global spotlight by a catchy, distinctive breakthrough single, then releases a solid album and enjoys the fruits of his or her labour for a while. But after the momentum is over, the descent to oblivion tends to be just as rapid as the rise to fame was. But does Lorde have what it takes to stand out and forge a career out of it?

The first thing that'll probably gain your attention is how little Lorde does in fact sound like a 16-year-old girl. Her music displays maturity beyond her years, and she chooses to sing in a very breathy, deep voice that once again, is not how you'd expect a young girl to sing like. Her songs are not about high school drama and proms, even though "Tennis Court" does touch upon the subject of school life ("Baby be the class clown / I'll be the beauty queen in tears"). Instead, she slams celebrities for their lavish life style ("Royals"), settling for the realities of life ("Team") and the pains of growing up ("Ribs"). Dreaming is also an often recurring theme in her lyrics, which makes an interesting juxtaposition with her stories that speak of appreciating everyday life instead of aiming for the diamonds and the glamour.

Musically the album combines hip hop influenced beats with minimalistic electronic instrumentals. Arguably nothing new, but it works. It is difficult to describe her singing voice without namedropping Lana Del Rey, as her vocals do have a very strong Lana-meets-Feist kind of a feel to them, especially on tracks like "Ribs" and "Still Sane". While it's not fair to associate one way of singing exclusively to one specific singer, the similarity is far too notable to mention. Then again, she is only 16 and has plenty of time to experiment with her voice and musical direction to find whatever she's most comfortable with.

Yet she has enormous pressure on her shoulders, not necessarily because of her own actions but rather because of the massive hype around her music. Her debut song "Royals" is a nice, minimalistic tune with lyrics that bash the glamourisation of luxury in pop music ("But every song's like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin' in the bathroom / Blood stains, ball gowns, thrashin' the hotel room") but the fact that it's been such a commercially successful anthem does amaze me - it still isn't that spectacular. The whole album actually suffers from the hype around it which is a shame, as it's obviously beyond Lorde's own hands. The music is lovely, but nothing especially out of the ordinary. Sonically, the record doesn't see her really experimenting with the sound of her music, and the material seems to recycle the same pattern all over and over again: similar delivery of vocals that try to reach ethereality, set to similar instrumental backdrops, driven by similar beats. Even the lyrical themes are rather unvarying.

All that being said, the album does have its moments. A definite highlight would be "Ribs" with its touching lyrics and beautiful overlaid backing vocals. "Buzzcut Season" is another pretty track with a catchy chorus, good enough to stand out from the rest. And then there's the very relatable "Team", the lyrics of which deal with the process of growing up and how it affects one's way of seeing and experiencing things: "I'm kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air" she sings while giving absolutely no fucks, "I'm kinda older than I was when I revelled without a care". It is also overall one of the best songs on Pure Heroine when it comes to lyrics, and features what is probably the most poetic description of acne ever recorded (and that is already quite a feat itself, is it not): "Now bring my boys in / Their skin in craters like the moon / The moon we love like a brother, while he glows through the room".

It must be noted that it's quite incredible that she's co-written all of these songs herself - kudos for that - with Joel Little being her collaborator/producer. It is actually very difficult to decide a context where the album should be reviewed and evaluated. If you think of it as a debut album of a teenage girl, it's amazing. If you view it as "just another indie artist trying to make it", it's not really anything extraordinary. It's not kind of music you wouldn't have heard before. And it definitely doesn't live up to the hype, which is on the other hand a stupid thing to even take to consideration as it doesn't directly relate to the music itself. 

However, Lorde is an undeniably talented young musician with loads of talent. Also, the premise of a singer criticising the superficiality and the shallowness of the music industry is a very intriguing one. Pure Heroine is a solid album alright, but it suffers from its excessive uniformity. Even so, it features some quality production, relatable lyrics and great vocals. But then again, it still doesn't set Lorde apart from her peers and predecessors, and does remind me of a slightly more urban-sounding version of the English-based indie folk band Daughter, or Lana going electronic. It is indeed a tricky album that manages to be both mediocre and astounding at the same time, although for very different reasons. But most importantly, it proves that she has a lot of potential in her. What she has to do now is to keep the momentum going in order to not become yet another disposable indie starlet.

3 / 5

Try at least: "Ribs", "Buzzcut Season", "Team"

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