Four years after her global rise to fame, one of the youngest artists to top both pop and alternative charts has grown up a lot. Only 16 when Pure Heroine was released, Lorde’s sophisticated lyrics and powerful minimalist sound earned her respect across the board, but a follow-up was due. While denser, more upbeat and dance-focused than her first effort, Lorde won’t be disappointing anyone with this release.
“Green Light” eases listeners in thanks to the killer piano, vicious delivery and deep bass you come to expect. While it’s no surprise after its release as a single, it’s still a little jarring to hear the heavy pounding drums and bass that make this track explode to life, but it never feels disingenuous as her unbridled passion behind the delivery makes it all the more enthralling. On demented vocal samples and a tribal beat, Lorde sings of her times lost in clubs, as she remains intensely self-aware and observant even as she lives her youth. While the catchy melodies and off-kilter tone definitely drive this track it’s the vocal drop-offs and lyrics that make this track memorable.
With some of the most cutting drums on a suffocating synth line, “Homemade Dynamite” starts to blend the dance-focus into Lorde’s off-single darkness. The choppy chorus delivery, along with the eerie background shrieks create a haunting feeling in the song. The cherry on top however is the delicious vocal trail off as she makes explosion noises before dropping into the final chorus. “The Louvre” moves on a chugging guitar and hovering synth before the beat kicks in and sends the song into a frightening cloud of bass. Her cheeky lyrics and the song’s atypical chorus, made captivating by her vocal hook make the song a surprising treasure, all the more beautiful thanks to the guitar notes that close it out.
Getting to her most vulnerable on the record, “Liability” is a brutal, heartbreaking piano ballad, as she reflects on her own habits, insecurities and weaknesses. Her angry yet pained delivery hurts to listen to and the way co-writer Jack Antonoff elevates it all in his piano playing is understated brilliance, as he outdoes a lot of his solo work on this record. “Hard Feelings / Loveless” slows things down to take its time on a synth-laden moodpiece, that focuses on individual moments in visceral fashion. The twinkling notes, snapping and dreamy synth lines, intertwined with the fluctuating harmonies and shrieking guitar makes for one of the most impressive tracks Lorde’s ever put out. Side 2 of the track punches in loud bass and drums as Lorde makes a sultry and tongue-in-cheek mini-single that’s surprisingly poignant.
Dramatic strings start off “Sober II (Melodrama)” as the party ends and reality sets back in making the kicking beats an extension of her anger and the melodies an extension of her regret. “Writer In The Dark” narrows in on the lyrics as Lorde moves right up to the mic to tell a very personal narrative with fiery emotion. The darkness to the low piano notes along with the slimy vocal style makes the chorus feel all too directed and the harmonic shrill is both chant inducing and haunting at the same time.
Immediate from its first piano line, “Supercut” rushes forth in a starry-eyed wonder, as a sense of hope and love returns to not only the lyrics but the melody and sound too. While some may feel the heavy production is far-gone from the Lorde of Pure Heroine, as evidenced by the sparse bridge, it’s more a reflection of her rejuvenation than a loss of identity. Emotionally renewed, “LIability (Reprise)” sheds the former’s sadness for a healthier perspective that carries as an epilogue to “Supercut.”
Closing on the track closest to her first record, “Perfect Places” emulates a lot of her earlier minimalism strongly while still feeling matured. The grander Lorde is where she’s most triumphant however as the choruses boom like victory cries as she reflects on how silly but fun her partying was.
Lorde is an artist truly reborn on this record, bigger and more club-ready than ever in her loud beats and more forward-moving sound. While musically less distinct than her first record, the lyrics are as blunt, clever and icy as ever, saving the album from any fair accusation of the titular melodrama, and besides there’s so much ambitious arrangement and production on this record that to consider it too pop is to miss the point. Showing she’s matured as an artist and more importantly as a person, Lorde hasn’t let her fame affect her sharp wit or cynicism in the slightest.
Words by Owen Maxwell