I’ll be honest; on my first encounter with Lorde’s music, I didn’t like it or told myself I didn’t like it because, of course, if it’s popular, it must be crap. But, on spending a little time with her debut album, I’ve come to a very different conclusion which is that she’s really quite brilliant. There’s a lot going on in this churning, grim album. Lorde’s vision is kind of weary and cynical and the music, mostly just dark synthesizers and quiet beats, backs this up with a real moodiness that makes the album feel brooding while also feeling exciting. Lorde’s haunting, uncertain voice is one of her biggest strengths. She understands things like phrasing and the sound of her voice is both vulnerable and strong at the same time. Lorde has a gift for melodies, as on Royals, her biggest hit and a real earworm, but also on her darker stuff, like Glory & Gore, a grimly bloody-minded look at fame. But her lyrics are consistently really good as well. Lines like “We live in cities that you’ll never see on screen/Not very pretty but we sure know how to run things,” or the opening line to Royals, certainly one of the great opening lyrics of all time, “I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh,” are great summations of the theme of struggling against inferiority that marks so much of Lorde’s music. And when she wants to satirize modern aesthetics, she’s ferocious: “It’s a new art form, showing people how little we care” or, probably the best lyric on the album, “I’m kinda tired of being told to throw my hands up in the air/So there.” For that last one alone, she deserves a couple of high-fives. The one complain I think you could launch against this album is that it all sounds kind of samey; every song, with a few exceptions, like the brighter sounding, radio-ready Royals, is relentlessly minor-key with big synths and beats and all the songs really have the same tone to them in many ways. But this doesn’t speak so much of a bankruptcy of ideas as of a consistent, strong vision and, since the album is only forty minutes, the sound doesn’t get old. Anyway, there’s a sort of looping, sedate ennui that’s only about thirty seconds from becoming despair that Lorde is really good at capturing; she’s also really good at capturing the things you feel and say when you fight that ennui and when you do sometimes triumph. This is really a great album and I can’t wait to see what she does next. 4 stars.
tl;dr – incredibly young singer-songwriter captures a dark, weary vision with this moody, brooding album; lyrics, melodies and production all combine into a pitch perfect tone. 4 stars.