Sunday, April 30, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1639: Marina and the Diamonds

Having spent half my weekend working I returned to Victoria last night and recharged with a fine night of music listening with friends. Yeehaw!

Later I’ll be watching the Bruins in a do-or-die playoff Game 7 against the Florida Panthers. Yeehaw x2 - but only if we win.

Disc 1639 is…Electra Heart

Artist: Marina and the Diamonds

Year of Release: 2012

What’s up with the Cover?  Giant Head Cover alert! In this case Marina Diamandis’s giant head. She’s doing a bit of a Madonna thing here, which I suspect is deliberate.

How I Came To Know It: I learned about this record well after it came out through some online “best of” list. I don’t remember if it was a best of 2012, best indie pop or what – only that it was one of the albums noted and I gave it a chance.

After unsuccessfully trying to find it for a couple of years, I gave up and went to Amazon. I am sorry to have fallen so low, dear reader. In my defence I tried very hard before I hit the rock bottom of Amazon ordering.

How It Stacks Up: This is my only Marina album. I have vague recollections of trying out her other stuff and not loving it but can’t be sure. I may revisit those other records at some point and see if I still feel that way now that I’ve had a chance to immerse myself in this album.

Rating: 4 stars

With “Electra Heart” Welsh singer Marina Diamandis lands an art-piece composed of plastic and dance pop. It is the kind of modern art that I usually walk by on my way to some Romantic landscape or Renaissance chamber scene but this time I stopped. These tunes are infectious as hell, but they also have a whole lot to say about both the characters Marina inhabits, but about the society that helps create those characters.

Stylistically, expect a lot of drum machine thump mixed with sugary pop hooks and more than a little anthemic mystery. Think Florence + the Machine crossed with Lady Gaga, with more than a hint of early Madonna.

This record is accessible and fun on the surface, but don’t be fooled; it cuts deeper if you let it. It is at it’s best when exploring the meanness in all of us, at times from the angle of social commentary and at others jut through the deep-seated pathologies of the narrator. Marina is unafraid to explore this space which lies at the nexus of revelry, self-examination and the external influences that help create the terrifying phenomenon of the Mean Girl.

Marina wastes not time digging into the theme, opening with “Bubblegum Bitch” a song about that superficial dream girl, but not the manic pixie variety. This is all pin-up dresses, fancy drinks and candy-flavoured lipstick, or so she tells you. The tough girl you meet at a party who is full of sardonic quips, but that you can’t resist chatting up. You won’t get to know her well, and that’s by design.

These characters are nasty on the surface, but as you dig into the record you see them through the pressure of the society that made them. The crushing pressure of expectation that makes them into diamonds – beautiful and hard as hell. Sometimes the themes are just buried in the character for you to discover, such as on “Bubblegum Bitch” or “How to be a Heartbreaker”. Other times, (“Sex Yeah”) Marina is more overt about the societal values doing the damage. In both cases, you are given funky dance beats that get your feet moving. The chocolate coating makes it go down easier.

So many great characters showcase the theme, but my favourite is “Teen Idle”. The title alone is a well-placed play on words, but the tune’s exploration of a confused teen, trying to find herself in a world that feels like its shouting at her so loud about who she should be she can’t think it through for herself. Plenty of great lines, but I like this stanza best:

“I wanna drink until I ache
I wanna make a big mistake
I want blood, guts and angel cake
I’m gonna puke it anyway.”

Yeesh. The tune is like a pleasant pop anthem, but at every turn you get regretful sex, suicidal thoughts and – as is the case above – burgeoning eating disorders.

Marina’s vocals are bright and powerful, and she’s able to sing sweetly or with a staccato groove with equal ability. The record is pure dance pop, but within the genre it finds plenty of space, landing pining ballads, bangers and eighties-inspired pop hooks.

It is not a musical style I am typically drawn to, but like any great piece of art, it transcends expectations and cuts through with its excellence and thoughtful composition.

Best tracks: Bubblegum Bitch, Primadonna, Power & Control, Teen Idle, Hypocrates, How to be a Heartbreaker

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