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Album Review: Marina & The Diamonds - Electra Heart

Posted by Christopher Will on 06/01 at 12:00 PM

Grade: A

Wide U.S. Release Date: July 10

Marina Diamandis made her name as a legitimate artist through the release of her freshman album The Family Jewels in May of 2010.  Under the moniker “Marina and the Diamonds,” she took her fans and listeners through a tirade of quirky, clunky, 80’s influenced coffee house pop.  But instead of filling her first album with sweet love songs and cutesy, summery ballads, The Family Jewels had a strange, cutting, introspective feel that automatically set Marina apart from her contemporaries.

Out of the 6 singles she released from The Family Jewels, “Oh No!” and “Hollywood” were the catchiest and the most sardonic of them all.  Both singles thrived on bright, sunny production, masking blisteringly sarcastic lyrics.  They also seemed to hint at something more, an evolution in sound and genre of which Marina and the Diamonds was only beginning to brush the surface.

Now for those that keep themselves firmly entrenched within mainstream music’s world and culture, you know how relevant and rampant musical “alter egos” are.  We’ve seen Beyonce’s Sasha Fierce, Billie Joe Armstrong’s Jesus of Suburbia, Lady Gaga’s Jo Calderone, Eminem’s Slim Shady, Nicki Minaj’s Roman Zolanski, and many, many more.  Each of these alter egos (successfully or unsuccessfully) allows their respective artist to artistically channel their music, appearance and personality in a different, usually more eccentric manner.

For her second album, dubbed Electra Heart, Marina created her own alter ego.  The woman, named Electra Heart, served as the subject of the album itself, a loose-fitting autobiographical concept that strung the album together under her twisted story.

Electra Heart is consumed by the empty promises of American pop culture, festering in her fading youth.  She dyes her hair platinum blond, but leaves her dark brown roots blatantly visible.  She wears heavy eyeliner and lipstick, and usually dons a short, pastel colored dress.  Electra is a veritable Barbie Doll: petite, perfect, and plastic, obviously modeled after American pop culture idol Marilyn Monroe. However, a single, tiny, jet-black heart placed under her left eye subtly belies that image, alluding to Electra Heart’s corrupt lifestyle.  The album Electra Heart perfectly embodies that alter ego - the icy, crisply-produced dance pop covers up the brutally honest and disturbing lyricism.  And thus, by creating Electra Heart, Marina also created a powerfully unsettling collection of music.

Electra Heart hits the ground running with its opening track “Bubblegum Bitch,” a fast-paced, bouncy, 90’s dance-rock track that’s obnoxiously fun.  Ms. Heart gives us an apt introduction to her narrative with the lyrics, “Oh dear diary, I met a boy.  He made my dull heart light up with joy.  Oh dear diary, we fell apart.  Welcome to the life of Electra Heart.”

The first single from Electra Heart is the track “Primadonna.”  Helmed by American producers Dr. Luke and Cirkut, who have produced for the likes of Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj (and every other pop star in between), “Primadonna” is a cookie-cutter radio hit with a biting twist.  In the song, Electra grants us a deeper look into her brash, selfish character and personality.  “All I ever wanted was the world.  I can’t help that I need it all, the Primadonna life, the rise and fall.  You say that I’m kind of difficult, but it’s always someone else’s fault.”  You can almost see Marina snickering behind the curtains on this one, filling “Primadonna” to the brim with thick, pungent sarcasm.

Lies” is without a doubt the standout track on Electra Heart.  Produced by Dr. Luke and Diplo, “Lies” comes across as an impeccably orchestrated mix between Katy Perry and Adele.  Here we find Electra Heart surprisingly expressive, her voice straining over cotton-candy layers of dubstep, 808 drums, and pianos.  Though the production is fluffy, the lyrics are heartrending.  Heart laments her failed relationship, cutting her subject down. “You’re too proud to say that you made a mistake, you’re a coward to the end.  I don’t want to admit, but we’re not gonna fit.  No, I’m not the type that you like.  Why don’t we just pretend?”

Homewrecker” is charmingly strange and disquieting.  Electra Heart speaks softly in the verses over gurgling, foggy synthesizers, coolly discrediting love and loyalty.  In the pre-chorus her voice suddenly rises into an almost painful wail, “and I don’t belong to anyone,” before a house-infused beat takes over in the chorus.  “Homewrecker” is the first true look at the dark tone that dominates the rest of the album.

Starring Role” could be considered the sequel to “Lies,” where Electra Heart stops mourning and starts becoming angry.  “You don’t love me, big f***king deal.  I’ll never tell you how I feel.”  Heart’s haunting voice builds and breaks over eerie, gloomy, dubstep.

In her track-by-track analysis of the album, Marina/Electra stated that “State Of Dreaming” was most inspired by Marilyn Monroe of all the tracks. Electra Heart compares herself to Monroe in the track, particularly how her dysfunctional life is masked by her outward appearance.  “State of Dreaming” is a bit more organically crafted than the previous tracks, where Electra intertwines her hooks around groovy guitars, keys, and symphonies.

Both “Power & Control” and “Living Dead” both call back to the music of the 80’s, particularly from the new-wave duo Eurythmics.  “Power & Control,” the second single from Electra Heart, highlights the push and pull of authority in a flawed relationship.  “Living Dead” once again encompasses the empty existence of Electra Heart and her blasé acceptance of this blemished living.

Teen Idle” is the apex of the album, both conceptually and sonically.  Disgusting, depressing, and offensive, Electra paints us a picture of the teenage life she wished she had lived.  Everything about the track is evocative, from the melodies, to the instrumentation, to the songwriting.  And once again, Electra Heart sounds proud and pretty, even when singing about burning bibles, sex, suicide, and “blood, guts, and chocolate cake.”

Valley of the Dolls” is probably the weakest track on the album.  It’s too sluggish, too sparsely produced and too soft to bring the album towards an effective close.  Especially after being taken through the twisted roller-coaster of “Teen Idle,” “Valley of the Dolls” seems far too bland.

By the time “Hypocrates” comes around, it’s a bit of a relief to hear some optimistic sounding music, even if the lyrics aren’t.  “Hypocrates” is infectiously catchy, and sounds a bit more like the music on The Family Jewels.  A mid-tempo alternative-pop song, Electra Heart builds the track around the hypocritical nature of a past lover.  It’s enjoyable, witty, and light-hearted in comparison to the rest of the album.

Electra Heart ends with the song “Fear And Loathing,” a beautiful, reflective, inspiring close to an album filled mostly with hate and gloom.  This is the turning point, the happy ending, the epiphany that life gets better, and that everyone can achieve redemption, even Electra Heart. “Now I see, I see it for the first time. There is no crime in being kind.  Not everyone is out to screw you over.  Maybe, yeah just maybe they just wanna get to know you.”

The album doesn’t officially drop in the United States until July 10th, but you can find all of these tracks through YouTube and also on Spotify.  You can also buy it on Amazon at an import rate. With such a well crafted, if perverse, work of art, Marina deserves the same recognition in the states that she’s been given elsewhere (Electra Heart has already charted in more than half a dozen countries, even hitting #1 in the UK and Ireland).

{name} Author: Christopher Will
Bio: Christopher Will is a junior studying Communications and English at Penn State. He enjoys scouring the internet for the latest pop music news and gossip, and loves sharing new music with his friends and peers. Some of his favorite artists include Breathe Carolina, Fun., Childish Gambino, Gotye, Yellowcard, and Robyn.

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