Albums of 2017 (#3): Lorde – Melodrama
In exploring all the recklessness of late adolescence with a self-knowing wink, Lorde's Melodrama celebrates young adulthood in all its brutal beauty; it's how chart-topping pop should be done
Ever since Lorde’s debut album Pure Heroine dropped in 2013 – boasting her smoky, world-weary voice, minimalist electronics and a pop song to last the ages in Royals – Ella Yelich-O’Connor has been identified as an artist with enormous potential. Few people expected that by the release of her second LP Melodrama, the young New Zealander’s artistry would already prove to be fully formed.
It’s easy to forget that Yelich-O’Connor – now 21 – was still in her late teens when she wrote most of Melodrama, which was released back in June of this year. One’s first adulthood years are a challenge to negotiate as it is, and an even stranger time to have expectation upon you. On Melodrama, Lorde masterfully explored what it is to be '19 and on fire', commemorating her newfound independence in an album that’s proved to be an even more remarkable accomplishment as 2017 has gone on.
Sonically, Melodrama is a triumph, with its songs eschewing existing pop formulas including Lorde’s own. The cover’s post-Impressionist depiction of Yelich-O’Connor leads us to expect Melodrama to be a more extravagant outing than the restrained Pure Heroine, and boy, is it. From the "incorrect songwriting" of opening track Green Light and its exhilarating house piano, Melodrama is a lush, nocturnal record which successfully adds fluorescent colour to Pure Heroine’s moody and spacious electropop. Just listen to the brass in Sober, the stuttering rhythms of Homemade Dynamite, or the ominous trap of Sober II (Melodrama). Lorde’s voice progressed on Melodrama too, the lower end of her register and falsetto mixing to fantastic effect on the Kate Bush-aping Writer in the Dark.
Lorde’s morbid wit hasn’t been left behind on Pure Heroine either as Melodrama’s lyrics capture the emotional whiplash of late adolescence, be it loving someone to the point of psychopathy or arrest, imagining being mangled into art by a drunk driving accident, or comparing skipping someone’s calls to ripping their heart out. Whatever Lorde feels on this album is relentless and shared unflinchingly.
In this, Lorde not only captures the ecstasy of being free for the first time – documenting many a messy night out clubbing – but also the bittersweet violence of it, as she reflects on a serious break-up she had during the course of recording the LP. The highs are particularly stunning, such as the guitar chug of The Louvre or the transient neon rush of Supercut. However, the album is not one of clinically effective bangers. Under producer Jack Antonoff’s intuitive direction, Melodrama is humid and romantic, not afraid of using extended instrumental outros to cement its mood.
In less capable hands, all this could be too intense to manage, but Lorde’s success on Melodrama is how she shows a precocious level of self-consciousness, always aware of her over-indulgence and unafraid to share the inevitable comedown that follows. When she sings, 'You’re all gonna watch me disappear into the sun,' over Liability’s spare piano, it isn’t a brag, but her understanding how her Icarusian ambition may leave her alone to face disaster. Lorde even admits her failures as she reflects on her break-up in Supercut: 'In my head, I do everything right'.
By the penultimate track of Melodrama – and its most moving – Liability (Reprise), Yelich-O’Connor finally accepts herself just as she is, as a chorus helps her repeat: 'But you’re not what you thought you were'. It’s life-affirming stuff. Despite Lorde knowing she will never be satisfied – possibly for her entire life – Melodrama closes with the shining synths of Perfect Places, as she just decides to embrace the whole imperfect mess while it lasts.
The second half of 2017 has only made Melodrama more impressive since it was released in the sultry days of summer. Compared to the overcooked egg that is Taylor Swift’s Reputation, which distracts itself with mega-rich romance and celebrity sniping, Lorde succeeds on Melodrama by remaining relatable despite her growing fame. Sure, Swift and Yelich-O’Connor may not be on the same playing field now, or ever, but this is how chart-topping pop should be done.
In exploring all the recklessness of late adolescence with a self-knowing wink, Melodrama celebrates young adulthood in all its brutal beauty. What a graceful way for Lorde to exit her teenage years, and what a gift Melodrama is in making that time sound eternal.