Few artists in the music industry today are able to ride the wave of their debut studio album to mainstream relevancy for four long years. It’s a painful, risky move, one that can alienate fans and signal career suicide if the final project doesn’t live up to lofty expectations.
Acclaimed singer-songwriter Lorde embarked on that lengthy hiatus following the release of Pure Heroine in 2013, and in Melodrama she delivers a powerful testament of heartbreak while also displaying significant musical growth.
Perhaps the best modern comparison to her career arc thus far is Frank Ocean, who similarly crept out of the public eye after releasing channel ORANGE in 2012. Lorde cited his 2016 follow-up album Blonde as an inspiration to her instrumentation, noting how it opened up so many possibilities for what she could do with each track.
The production on Melodrama is brilliant throughout, filled with watery melodies set over gripping 808s and drums. In songs like “Hard Feelings/Loveless,” Lorde uses unusual sounds and background effects to keep the silence between bars compelling. She builds the moment beautifully on “Homemade Dynamite,” taking time to draw the listener in before exploding in the chorus.
The precise, carefully digitized production allows the album’s more organic moments to stand out nicely. “Liability” strips the soundscape down to just Lorde’s voice and a piano, allowing the singer’s passion to drive the song. In “Writer in the Dark,” she coldly repeats “Bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark” over minimal backing, before climbing her vocal register on the chorus to make the listener feel her emotion.
She puts care into the transitions around the songs to allow the album to flow smoothly, slowly bringing in the drums after “Liability” and starting “Supercut” in a capella immediately after “Writer in the Dark.” Lorde called the project a loose concept album, telling the story of a single house party. She tries to capture the complete essence of the party, from the jubilant moments in the limelight to the less glamorous, troubling side stories swirling around them. “Homemade Dynamite” delves into the former, describing that first interaction with someone that turns into something more.
In the lead single “Green Light,” Lorde tells the story of “that drunk girl dancing around crying about her ex-boyfriend,” searching for closure in the wake of her explosive breakup. “Perfect Places” finds Lorde stepping outside the limelight entirely and looking back on her newfound fame, lamenting the illusions of “perfect places” she thought she’d find in her life.
Lyrically, Lorde frequently mixes abstract metaphors with blunt assertions on Melodrama. In “Sober,” she repeatedly asks the same question, “ But what will we do when we’re sober?” The lyrics complement the production at several points, such as the transition into the chorus in “The Louvre.” While speaking on the emotions of a budding relationship, she sings, “Can you feel the violence? / Megaphone to my chest,” before abruptly cutting out the melody. She leaves her pounding heartbeat with: “Broadcast the boom, boom, boom, boom and make ‘em all dance to it.” Later in “Supercut,” she speaks about replaying the perfect moments of her relationship in her head, trailing off her final words with, “In my head I do everything right,” and allowing the dreamy skeleton of the song to linger as the listener attempts to visualize Lorde’s memories.
In an era when more and more artists are building albums around themes and concepts, Melodrama is an impressive, cohesive work. None of the 11 tracks feel like filler material, and each song progressively moves Lorde’s narrative forward while also adding depth to her personal story. Hopefully it doesn’t take Lorde four more years to release another album, but even if it does, Melodrama is more than capable of standing the test of time.
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