It’s not every day that an album like Melodrama arrives. It’s not even every year.
Lorde’s 2013 debut Pure Heroine was one of the first pop albums I ever truly loved; her visual metaphors and unique perspective on the emotional landscape of the teenage years, paired with Joel Little’s striking and austere production, had me marveling this gem that seemed so far outside my usual musical interests (and got me very inspired; I probably owe thousands of words of fiction to Lorde’s music). Four years later, Stevie Nicks’s long-lost witchy daughter has returned with a new perspective, new subject matter, and a new collaborator in Jack Antonoff, and the results are staggering. Holding true to the voice she developed on Pure Heroine, Lorde has only sharpened her critical eye as she’s matured, shedding light on the absurdity of party culture, social expectation, and Melodrama’s primary topic: life after breaking up.
While Pure Heroine felt like a cultural critique with a degree of creatively abstracted personal involvement, that ratio has flipped in her new work; Lorde’s more personal approach to Melodrama has infused her sardonic observational humor with a deep, rich vein of sincerity, and has allowed us a glimpse into the power of her resolution to move beyond loss and reclaim herself. Anyone who has experienced a painful breakup will benefit from this album. I wish I’d had it years ago.
This is all without mentioning the production. While Pure Heroine‘s sparse instrumentation set the tone beautifully for that album’s statement, the same approach wouldn’t have worked nearly as well for these songs. The new backing tracks, driven by Jack Antonoff’s piano and a symphony of electronics, lend Melodrama an incredible array of textures, even taking center stage a few times, like spectacular reflections of Lorde’s emotive lyrics. There’s no bad track on this album; the second half of “Hard Feelings/Loveless” strikes me as the one weak spot, but I’m more than willing to forgive it, given all that comes before and after it. Melodrama is a truly exceptional album.