“I hear sounds in my mind / Brand new sounds in my mind” sings Lorde, 20-year-old singer-songwriter from New Zealand, on comeback single “Green Light” from earlier this year. It’s a clear, open statement of self – Lorde was just 16 when she grabbed the world’s attention with Pure Heroine, a debut album built on minimalist alt-pop and mature, conscious lyricism, and the time elapsed between then and now has seen creative and personal changes in the young artist’s life. Her second full-length LP Melodrama, released 16 June, is the culmination.
“Green Light” itself is positioned as the opener to Melodrama, and such a microcosm of sound acts as a perfect introduction to the “new sounds” Lorde alludes to; in just under 4 minutes, the track takes us from a bitter piano drama – “she thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar” – to a skipping, danceable pre-chorus, into a hook that’s pure festival fodder – “I’m waiting for it, that green light / I want it“. It’s a jubilant and unhindered burst of colour, something which split opinions at its release for being such a departure from the low-key, self-aware atmospherics of Pure Heroine. Without appearing to try too hard, Lorde ushers us into her new world and banishes memories of her initial breakout hits, the likes of “Royals” (2013) and “Yellow Flicker Beat” (2015), in favour of a sound that’s altogether more familiar, even a little more club-oriented, for better or worse.
The opening salvo of Melodrama continues into “Sober”, one of a handful of new tracks that Lorde debuted at her incendiary Coachella headline slot earlier this year, and offers a deeper look into Lorde’s overriding concept for Melodrama, to portray the ups and downs of a typical night for a pretty young thing. Tropical horn flourishes and a sombre, exposed rhythm are the soundtrack to all-nighters laced with intoxicates and questionable decisions – “We’re King and Queen of the weekend / Ain’t a pill that could touch our rush / (But what will we do when we’re sober?)” asks Lorde, mixing bold, youthful optimism with questioning doubts, blurring the line between the feeling of taking over the world with the inevitable crash back to reality. It’s scarily well-observed, and the theme prevails from end-to-end of Melodrama.
Nowhere do the doubts come more clearly to the fore than on “Liability”, the album’s second single, where Lorde’s only companion is a piano as she ponders her role as “a toy that people enjoy / ‘Til all of the tricks don’t work anymore“. The theme of failed, adolescent romance is hinted to be the cause of this (forgive me) melodrama, as on “The Louvre”, Lorde’s lyrics turn to solemn reflection; “Okay I know that you are not my type / I’m just the sucker who let you fill her mind“. In these jumpy, insecure musings, Lorde captures a devastatingly accurate snapshot of love in its most naive, and in this feat, manages to appear wholly mature and fully-formed. Amongst the contrasting tonal darkness of alcohol-fuelled hedonism, this may be Melodrama‘s biggest achievement.
“”Sober” … offers a deeper look into Lorde’s overriding concept for Melodrama, to portray the ups and downs of a typical night for a pretty young thing”
While the album’s gems are found in its detailed, mindful lyricism, none of which has waned since the cutting critiques of materialism and postcode feudalism on Pure Heroine, the grand scope of Melodrama offers a sense of thematic cohesion rarely found on an ostensibly “pop” album. The album’s second act continues its established strands of thought, as on “Sober II (Melodrama)”, Lorde finds herself concluding another round of celebration with “Lights are on and they’ve gone home, but who am I? Oh, how fast the evening passes, cleaning up the champagne glasses“, while the instrumental manages to include trap-style percussion and gothic strings together, without appearing needlessly “trendy” or self-conscious.
Praise must also be reserved for Lorde’s vocal delivery – never as polished or perfect as other pop starlets, Lorde’s singing style instead opts for more direct, personal idiosyncrasy, and while this is a constant, it’s never as flooring as on “Writer In The Dark”. Evocations of Kate Bush (praise be) come to life on lines like “I am my mother’s child, I’ll love you ’til my breathing stops / I’ll love you ’til you call the cops on me“, where manic devotionals are stark against more delicate pianos and strings, and a heart-rending sentiment is laid bare.
The closing round of songs on Melodrama begins with “Supercut”, a slightly less-layered “youth anthem”-style number, where the refrain of “In your car, the radio up / We keep trying to talk about us” comes across as almost too perfect, destined for a teenager’s scrapbook, but it’s not without its standout moments of brilliant production, as filtered vocals and pianos evoke memories of early The 1975 EPs. A “(Reprise)” of “Liability” introduces a new, brief synthetic interlude to deliver us to the album’s conclusion, preparing that final burst of dopamine before the inevitable cab needs to be called.
There’s little that can stop “Perfect Places”, the closer to Melodrama, which encapsulates the joy-tinged-with-sadness that comes with a night spent “under the influence”; Lorde details her recurring desire to “blow my brains out to the radio” before describing how she’ll “Spill my guts beneath the outdoor light“, finally presenting a grand chorus, and a desire to “find these perfect places“. Everything about the song’s joyous, celebratory tone leaves the entire project on a high note, and in spite of the many self-doubts and cutting observations – “All of our heroes fading / Now I can’t stand to be alone” – Lorde offers hope that, if “perfect places” can’t be found while letting your hair down on a night, then where exactly are they?
Josh Will Eden