AFTER THE HYPE — Lorde’s Melodrama

And now back to our regularly scheduled presentation on Radio Friendly.


After the Hype is back after a week off. I was sick and didn’t have enough time to sit down with Lorde’s 2017 album, Melodrama. I never gave this album the time of day when it came out, though I did give lead single Green Light a fair listen when that was released. I didn’t mind it, I enjoyed the poppy production and epic chorus. Lorde’s vocal delivery has always irked me more than I would like, the way she pronounces her words irritates the fuck out of me. That’s why I didn’t care much for her debut album, Pure Heroine. While everyone was singing and dancing to Tennis Court and Royals at house parties, I was sitting in the corner twitching with irritation like Renton from Trainspotting. Except I was sober. That’s what Lorde’s pronunciation does to me.

I don’t want to sound mean, so I went into Melodrama trying to be as completely neutral as possible. Though Melodrama was heralded as one of 2017’s best albums, so my expectations were high. And she’s headlining Splendour in the Grass. The twenty-one-year-old is headlining Splendour in the Grass, with only two albums to her name, and alongside one of the best rappers of our generation. What the fuck has happened to the world?

Melodrama opens with Green Light. Like I said, I enjoyed this track when it was released prior to the album. Lorde’s trademark deep, husky voice opens the song, “I do my makeup in somebody else’s car,” against clean piano chords. Lorde then goes on to rhyme car with bar, and I’m already picking at the pronunciation of her vowels. The ar sound /ɑr/ is an r-controlled vowel, though Lorde’s pronunciation hangs on the a sound, as if she’s baaing like a sheep. ‘We order different drinks at the same baaars’. I’m being picky, it’s really not that bad. I just can’t not hear it now. In the pre-chorus, Lorde harmonises against a falsetto version of herself, and the two tones of her voice pair well. Her sunny falsetto has a Grimes feel to it; it’s a bit weird and funky. Green Light’s chorus is epic as the instrumentation builds behind Lorde’s voice. It’s obvious her song writing has improved since Pure Heroin; Lorde now understands how to make a pop banger.

The next track, Sober, begins with an eerily edited falsetto singing “Night, midnight, lose my mind.” It sounds like a mantra that a witch would sing in a ritual, it’s creepy and caught me off guard after the epic chorus of Green Light. I really enjoy how weird the opening of Sober is, but it’s soon lost when Lorde begins singing in her lower register. The eerie falsetto is hidden in the back and is hard to find once Sober turns into a standard pop song. There’s a definite sexiness to this track, from the way Lorde draws out her verses, to the minimal beat in the background and the subtle synth chords. The production on this track is top notch, the music ebbs and flows intelligently, each time building further adding more instrumentation. Producer Jack Antonoff knows how to produce sophisticated pop tunes. The lyrical content seems more adult compared to Lorde’s first album, this one feeling more sexual than her previous songs. Some sort of unknown parental instinct kicked in when I first heard this track, as if my conscious was saying, ‘damn girl you shouldn’t be singing about that sort of stuff, you’re not old enough.’ I forgot Lorde is twenty-one.

Homemade Dynamite follows, Lorde’s next big single off this album. I don’t mind it, it’s a solid pop tune. But I get this feeling that Lorde is doing her best Taylor Swift impression. And the more that I think of it, I can see Taylor Swift in the opening four tracks, including the next song The Louvre. There’s more electronic production on Lorde’s tracks compared to Swift, but the vocal effect and melodies Lorde sings sound like it’s coming straight from a Reputation B-side. Swift and Lorde hang out, they’d share ideas and influence each other, but it’s clear that one has a stronger influence over the other. I can’t shake the feeling as I listen to The Louvre. As Lorde sings, “Broadcast the boom, boom, boom” I had to look up to make sure it wasn’t Taylor Swift featured on the track. Her vocal melody in the verse, pre-chorus and even the chorus sounds ripped from Reputation. In saying that, it’s still a great song. But by now, I am seeing the pattern in Lorde’s song writing: begin quiet with subtle vocals and minimal instrumentation, slowly build into chorus, drop back down for second verse, build, build more, epic chorus, decrescendo for finish.

That formula follows for the rest of the album. On Liability, Lorde dials down the electronic pop production and sings a ballad with a clean piano accompaniment. Lorde’s soulful vocal performance doesn’t stray too far from the norm, it would be nice to hear her experiment with her delivery a bit more.

I get a glimmer of Lorde’s future potential on Writer in the Dark, the most promising song on Melodrama. Her lyrics deal with love and the struggle of moving on from a relationship, but it’s Lorde’s vocal performance that’s blown me away. The verse is your standard, low register husk that Lorde is known for, but as she moves into the chorus Lorde walks the fine line between falsetto and her higher register. It’s a beautiful, breathy and haunting performance. She sounds like the a young Tori Amos, a sound that is not found in pop anymore and if there’s one person to bring it back, it’s Lorde. Writer in the Dark is the standout song on Melodrama.

The album finishes on pop banger Perfect Places. It’s still your paint by numbers pop song, and thanks to Antonoff’s pop production, there’s surprises lingering around each turn. Whether it’s a new layer of instrumentation or a subtle build, he’s on point with creating a solid pop tune. Lorde’s song-writing is smart and catchy, and here she dabbles in some falsetto performance. I just wish I heard more of it in the album. But I’m glad Melodrama ended on a high note instead of a slow pop ballad like Reputation did.

I hate to have to compare Melodrama to its pop contemporary, but the two albums share similarities. Many of Lorde’s melodies seem to be stripped straight from the Swift textbook. Lorde does show her personality in the tracks, I’d rather listen to Lorde’s lyrics over Swift’s. But I don’t think Lorde does enough to cement her footing and create her own identity in the pop landscape. Lorde can shift between a husky, lower register and a haunting falsetto like no one else in pop music, yet she doesn’t do it as much as she should. Lorde plays it safe on Melodrama, but she’s shown glimmers of where her music can go if she breaks away from the norms of pop music set by her friends. It’s also highly hypocritical to enjoy Lorde’s album but shit all over Taylor Swift’s latest albums. If you can’t hear the similarities, you’re a fool. Oh fuck, look at me, I sound like a Swifty. Shit.

Melodrama isn’t a bad album, but it’s not worth the hype.

After the Hype is a weekly series where I listen to an album after the hype dies down and give my general thoughts, sometimes a little whinge. It’s ok to disagree.

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