Lorde — Melodrama

Lava · Republic | discogs.com
The year’s best pop album has arrived.

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Melodrama was ranked second in my Top Ten Albums I Wrote About in 2017, and was awarded the Silver Teardrop for Most Likely to Remind You that You are Wasting your Fleeting Youth

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You reach a point of diminishing returns when making comparisons to such a specific work as Melodrama. I could tell you that the intricately organised choirs of background Lordes remind me of my beloved Björk at her most maximalistic, refusing to smooth out the creases and imperfections of a peculiar voice and indeed amplifying them a dozenfold. I could quote a Guardian profile wherein Lorde discloses her ambition: “I want to be Paul Simon. I want to be Leonard Cohen. I want to be Joni Mitchell.” I could let you know that, while doubtless future generations will agree unanimously with that proclamation, in my esteemed estimation, Lorde’s closest technical analogue is the luminescent Beyoncé — both doing exactly what they want, crafting generation-defining pop that is quintessentially their own.

But I don’t need to. Lorde can speak for herself.

“I do my makeup in somebody else’s car /
We order different drinks at the same bars /
I know about what you did and I wanna scream the truth /
She thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar /

Well, those great whites, they have big teeth /
Hope they bite you /
Thought you said that you would always be in love /
But you’re not in love no more /
Did it frighten you? /
How we kissed when we danced on the light-up floor? /

But I hear sounds in my mind /
Brand new sounds in my mind /
But honey, I’ll be seeing you wherever I go /
And honey, I’ll be seeing you down every road /
(I’m waiting for it — that green light — I want it) /

‘Cause honey, I’ll come get my things, but I can’t let go /
(I’m waiting for it — that green light — I want it) /
Oh, I wish I could get my things and just let go /
(I’m waiting for it — that green light — I want it)”

And that’s just the first minute of the first track. ‘Green Light’ is Melodrama in miniature: a microcosm wherein savagely intimate detail meets universal sentiment. It is interposing reflex, reflection and recrimination. It is pulling between love, life and celebrity. It is the breakup album to end all breakup albums.

Melodrama loosely follows the arc of a night out, through the highs and lows, through the exquisitely special and the wearily ordinary, frequently blurring the distinction between the two. It is a testament to her skill how deftly Lorde balances experience, commentary and metacommentary, leaning into clichés and formulas, turning them upside-down and inside-out while simultaneously embracing them. Without romanticising, without sugarcoating, barely even exaggerating she takes the shattered fragments of her first relationship and pieces them back together into something stunning. Only she could have the temerity to title it Melodrama.

Lorde wields blunt honesty like a weapon. I can’t remember the last time an album left me so completely floored — Lemonade came close, but that was ultimately the project of a black woman in America; three epithets that do not apply to me. Melodrama, however, is about a young person in 2017, and I flatter myself to be counted among all three of those demographics, to see myself behind that thick mane of hair, mirrored in that piercing gaze.

One need only glance at the album cover, as brought to life by Brooklyn postmodernist Sam McKinniss, to read Lorde’s intentions. She paints the mundane with such vivid, hyperreal colour, finding the deepest indigos and the mightiest crimsons, delivering it all with the pack-a-day rasp of a woman three times her age (a wizened, decrepit twenty).

Of course, the music itself is a masterpiece of kintsugi chiaroscuro. Alongside her partner in crime, Jack Antonoff — the same producer who brought his Midas touch to Taylor Swift’s outstanding 1989 — Lorde has conjured up a storm of jagged edges, a bolt of lightning caught and bottled. It flickers and crackles, razor-sharp, threatening to burst loose at any moment. The sombre cloud and the freezing rain are refracted in every corner. There’s nowhere to hide, and Lorde neither wants nor needs to. It’s electrifying.

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It’s 11:32.

You’ve pulled the trigger. You’ve dumped his lying ass. You made a scene and got kicked out of the bar — apparently your screaming was distracting to the other patrons. Now you need a fricking drink.

Mass text. Taxi. ID. Beer. So much beer.

You close your teeth around a slice of liquor-wet lime. Eye contact.

· · ·

“But my hips have missed your hips /
So let’s get to know the kicks /
Will you sway with me? /
Go astray with me?”

Her interior monologue interjects: “But what will we do when we’re sober?” The thought is immediately swept away by a muscular brass figure.

“We pretend that we just don’t care /
But we care”

The bitter grey dough of cynicism is low-hanging fruit. Lorde’s revelation is both face-slappingly obvious and genuinely new. It’s just as well denial is a comfortable place to stay, because the next stage of grief is anger. When Lorde gets pissed she will rend the very earth.

‘Sober’ is a far cry from the artsy negative space of her debut album Pure Heroine, whereon she declared that showing people how little we care is a new art form. The bored, sullen teenager has grown up into a fraught, neurotic, endlessly eloquent woman. The same issues still plague her, as they do us all. Time has not remedied them, but it has opened up new coping outlets. Instead of ensconcing oneself in one’s room writing terrible emo poetry, one may instead hit the clubs and get oneself utterly gazeboed.

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It’s 12:53.

You’ve splashed tequila down your front. Good thing you didn’t pay for it. The gentleman has catalysed something — your minds are achatter with new and sparkling ideas.

You dance.

· · ·

“Our rules, our dreams — we’re blind /
Blowing shit up with homemade d-d-d-dynamite /
Our friends, our drinks — we get inspired /
Blowing shit up with homemade d-d-d-dynamite”

The night has shifted into gear now. ‘Homemade Dynamite’ marries rashness to enthusiasm in a way that only a millennial could pull off with absolute myopic certainty.

“We’ll end up painted on the road /
Red and chrome /
All the broken glass sparkling”

Lorde shrugs. “I guess we’re partying.”

· · ·

It’s 1:39.

You’re staring in the filthy bathroom mirror, grasping the porcelain of a sink that may once have been white. You’re re-evaluating your life under the ugly, harsh lighting. The mirror is rattling in time with a muffled booming.

The world hasn’t disappeared. You have. If just for a moment.

You run the tap, cup a hand and splash some water into your mouth.

You pat your damp palms on your thighs, and steel yourself.

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This is my favourite moment of the album: when Lorde pushes open the bathroom door, the seismic pounding suddenly smashes back to full volume. She is so prodigiously skilled at translating the wordless. The aggressive physicality of club music is but one target in her sights.

“Can you hear the violence? /
Megaphone to my chest /
Broadcast the boom boom boom boom /
And make ‘em all dance to it”

You don’t need me to point it out. You know a manifesto when you see one. Though perhaps you’ve never seen one delivered so succulently and so succinctly.

“They’ll hang us in the Louvre /
Down the back, but who cares — still the Louvre”

Comparisons between relationships and artwork run a mile wide and an inch deep. It’s certainly tempting to invoke the obvious metaphor, a hyperlink between your own self-immortalisation and a particularly rich tradition of symbolism. Lorde tops them all with a cheeky grin. Five stars for ‘The Louvre.’

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It’s 2:21.

You’re hunched on the kerb, alone, thinking. Your shoes dangle from one hand, and in the other you clutch a box of wine.

It’s cold. You’re too tired to cry.

You bring the box to your parched mouth again. You think you like pinot noir, but you don’t remember.

· · ·

“They say, ‘You’re a little much for me /
You’re a liability /
You’re a little much for me’”

She’s accompanied by only a dim, dusty piano.

“So they pull back and make other plans /
I understand /
I’m a liability /
Get you wild, make you leave”

Her throat closes up. There’s a speck of stardust in her eye.

“I’m a little much for everyone / […]
You’re all gonna watch me disappear into the sun”

· · ·

It’s 3:36.

There’s a little row of ducks to shoot. He hated absinthe. He hated a lot of things.

Nobody else likes liquorice, but you do.

You take a shot.

· · ·

Something loosened during ‘Liability,’ and on ‘Hard Feelings/Loveless,’ Lorde pulls the plug. Instead of shorter, sharper lines, melancholy spills from her lips.

“’Cause I remember the rush when forever was us /
Before all of the winds of regret and mistrust /
Now we sit in you car and our love is a ghost /
Well, I guess I should go”

Even this deep into expositional territory, she effortlessly balances little moments with the big depressing picture.

“When the sweet words and fevers all leave us /
Right here in the cold /
Alone with the hard feelings of love /
God, I wish I believed you when you told me /
This was my home”

It is here that we see the first glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Halfway into Melodrama, we’ve seen nothing but drinking and devastation. But woven into Lorde’s self-effacing, self-destructive behaviour, a silver thread of self-care twinkles.

“I light all the candles /
Cut flowers for all my rooms /
I care about myself the way I used to care about you”

A shriek pierces the air, mechanical, metallic. On the rare occasion that words fail her, Lorde harnesses pure white noise to do her bidding.

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It’s 4:00.

Your head is pounding.

There’s nothing to drink.

A blur of light, sound, colour…

You’re lost.

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“We told you this was melodrama /
(Oh, how fast the evening passes /
Cleaning up the champagne glasses) /
Our only wish is melodrama”

The skies have darkened. The string ensemble has crashed down. We have reached the crux of the album.

Without an ounce of pretention, she titles her grimmest number yet ‘Sober II (Melodrama).’ How cinematic.

And how appropriate. Only Lorde could seize such a cruel judgement, invert it, abjure it and then wrap it around herself so tightly.

She has exhausted her anecdotes. She lapses into a stream of consciousness. She’ll show you melodrama.

“And the terror, and the horror /
God, I wonder why we bother /

All the glamour, and the trauma /
And the fucking melodrama /

All the gunfights, and the limelights /
And the holy, sick, divine nights /

They’ll talk about us, all the lovers /
How we kiss and kill each other /
They’ll talk about us, and discover /
How we kissed and killed each other”

She stares into your eyes and whispers her most damning couplet.

“We told you this was melodrama /
You wanted something that we offer”

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It’s 5:21.

You sway unsteadily. You’re exhausted. You’ve lost your phone, but you’ve found a paper bag.

The scotch goes down cool and slick.

You don’t know where you are, but it doesn’t matter.

A brand new sound is on a loop, burned into your mind.

· · ·

She’s back at that dusky piano.

She drops heavily into her lower register.

“Bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark”

She swoops up into a scratchy, swaggering soprano.

“Now she’s gonna play and sing and lock you in her heart”

And down again, with a smirk.

“Bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark”

And she forces it back up for the tipsy, aching chorus.

“I am my mother’s child /
I’ll love you ‘til my breathing stops /
I’ll love you ‘til you call the cops on me”

Raise your lighters.

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It’s 6:08.

Your legs dangle from the roof of someone’s car. You have plastic cups, creaming soda, cheap vodka, a plastic bag and a receipt that is far too long.

You slowly pick it to shreds.

Sunlight peeks over the horizon, but you don’t see it.

· · ·

“We keep trying to talk about us /
I’m someone you maybe might love /
I’ll be your quiet afternoon crush /
Be your violent overnight rush /
Make you crazy over my touch”

From the dusky ‘Writer In the Dark,’ we have taken a step back for ‘Supercut.’ Lorde has widened her focus. The past and the future bleed into the moment.

“So I fall /
Into continents and cars /
All the stages and the stars /
I turn all of it /
To just a supercut /

A piano chimes in the background, much brighter this time, a euphoric reprise.

‘Cause in my head, I do everything right /
When you call, I’ll forgive and not fight /
Because ours are the moments I play in the dark /
We were wild and fluorescent /
Come home to my heart”

· · ·

It’s 7:55.

Your face hits the pillow, cool and fresh from a day of disuse. Your mouth is minty.

You regret everything and nothing.

For the first time in forever, you smile.

· · ·

Through a hungover haze, she slurs:

“Maybe all this is the party /
Maybe the tears and the highs we breathe /
Maybe all this is the party /
Maybe we just do it violently”

And with that lovely reprise of ‘Liability,’ the album simmers down. All that’s left is ‘Perfect Places:’ the coda, the capstone, the wrapup, and just a little too soon. At barely forty minutes, Melodrama wastes no time — it is tight and supple, exactly as long as it needs to be, and yet still feels slightly too short. I’d say it seems truncated somehow, but if a track was removed during the production, it left not a speck of evidence. Melodrama is airtight, seamless, surely by design — Lorde loves to leave you wanting more.

Do be careful not to overdose. Directions have been laid out quite clearly. When considering those extensive quotations, I read through the entire libretto in about fifteen minutes and found myself a little choked up. Consider that a warning. Do not freebase Melodrama. It’s better to temper the urge to parse every line, every note, every impact, and just let the tsunami crash over you. Just sit back and let the master drawn you in.

“I whisper things / The city sings them back to you”

Is it a boast of the legion at her command? Is it a lament of the demise of her privacy? Why not both? After all, these are the words of a woman who bottles lightning, who holds a moonbeam in her hand. I wouldn’t put anything past her.

And so Melodrama draws to a close with resignation, with a weirdly sardonic optimism. Things aren’t getting better any time soon. But she will. And we will too.

“Every night I live and die /
Feel the party to my bones /

Watch the wasters blow the speakers /
Spill my guts beneath the outdoor light /
It’s just another graceless night /

I hate the headlines and the weather /
I’m nineteen and I’m on fire /
But when we’re dancing I’m alright /
It’s just another graceless night /

Are you lost enough? /
Have another drink, get lost in us /
This is how we get notorious /
‘Cause I don’t know /
If they keep telling me where to go /
I’ll blow my brains out to the radio /

All of the things we’re taking /
‘Cause we are young and we’re ashamed /
Send us to perfect places /
All of our heroes fading /
Now I can’t stand to be alone /
Let’s go to perfect places"

This is what pop music does at its very best. It takes ordinary gestures and thoughts and feelings and elevates them into something pure, a drop of human nature distilled directly into your ears, a perfect place. This is why there are memes and tattoos and hashtags — we can sense something arresting, something so visceral and immediate, and devilishly simple.

In his recent New York Times interview, comedian and loveable alien Jonny Sun shared his working theory on art: “ ‘…it’s supposed to feel like an inside joke, but you’re supposed to try to get everyone to feel like they’re in on the inside joke,’ […]” Lorde has invited us inside her head, so wild and fluorescent, but so fiercely, fiercely focused. Kick off your shoes, she says, and come dance in my storm.

This will be looked back on. This will be cited among the very best music of the decade.

Expect to see Melodrama top 2017’s best-of lists, including mine. Expect to remember this.

Lorde is carving her name into history with her fingernails, and it’s our privilege and our pleasure to watch it happen.

"Every night I live and die /
Meet somebody, take ‘em home /
Let’s kiss and then take off our clothes /
It’s just another graceless night /

All of the things we’re taking /
‘Cause we are young and we’re ashamed /
Send us to perfect places /
All of our heroes fading /
Now I can’t stand to be alone /
Let’s go to perfect places /

All the nights spent off our faces /
Trying to find these perfect places /
What the fuck are perfect places anyway?”