When it was revealed a few months ago, Melodrama looked a neat, self-mocking title.
What better for the second album from an artist whose debut featured emotions ranging from high to intense to whoa, easy there; whose presentation was in kohl and minimalism; and whose lighthearted – a relative term - moments were in liberation rather than humour.
As patronising writers and observers were quick to note, Lorde, aka Ella Yelich-O’Connor, had recorded that first album, Pure Heroine, as a 16-year-old, an age rather known for melodramatic excesses of feeling. Kids eh? They just feel so much. Bless.
Coming after the pre-album single, Green Light, appeared earlier this year, brighter, poppier in tempo and sound - albeit not much lighter in subject matter – it was presumed that as a wised-up 20-year-old now, Lorde was not just acknowledging the characteristics of her style but moving past it.
Nuh-uh. Feelings haven’t toned down, wrongs haven’t been let go, intensity hasn’t been flicked. As she says to one kissed-off character, “Bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark” as the piano chords portend drama and things get a bit Kate Bush-goes-to-church on us.
And you know what? That’s a good thing. Definitely a good thing when you luxuriate in the resignation of a song such as Liability (Reprise).
Despite the mockery put on it, melodrama is nothing to be frightened of when you can temper it just right and when you can put it in songs that can carry the weight. Or, just as crucially, when you can put it in songs that deflect, distribute or just don’t notice the weight.
Melodrama deflects and distributes that weight most noticeably in its greater emphasis on rhythm and a wider tonal palette. Where the sparse arrangements of Pure Heroine emphasised intent, the fuller sound here move the emphasis around song by song.
Homemade Dynamite is 21st century R&B: backing vocal sparkle matched with thick keyboard (almost) menace; top line vocal lightness framed by treatments which at times put things through a kind of thin opaque glass; a simple melody bounced within slurred basslines and sounds teetering on off-kilter.
Hard Feelings – Loveless has a beefed-up heartbeat and a lost-in-life melody which on Pure Heroine would have been backed at most by echo and maybe a drone backing voice. Here though, myriad sounds splash across the surface repeatedly like Pro Hart doing those old carpet commercials, changing the atmosphere constantly.
That is until the song suddenly takes on an almost Caribbean lilt and the vocals get all Belle Stars cutesy on us. It doesn’t really make sense but it works for its casual audacity in casting off the seriousness which normally attends Lorde.
Maybe that’s a sorbet course before the following track, the meatier Sober II (Melodrama), which steps from light to gloom around a minute in as the drum sounds, and the air, get murkier.
Mind you, the real palate cleansers come in songs such as Green Light, Sober and Supercut where much more fluid rhythms – and, in Sober, bushy-tailed brass - than she once would have deployed kick the mood up.
Supercut, only slightly less than Green Light, comes out of a cavalcade of ‘80s sounds with a chorus that is practically buoyant. Aided, it should be noted, by lyrics which lean to positivity.
It is by the end no surprise that Lorde finishes the album with Perfect Places, a song that crosses back and forth between a woozy alcohol blur and a buzzy alcohol high, between saying “let’s kiss and take off our clothes” and describing it all as a “another graceless night”, between synth pop circa Human League’s Dare and low impact R&B ala Drake.
It makes sure you leave Melodrama with the knowledge that Lorde isn’t unaware of her patterns but is neither afraid of them nor worried about breaking from them. It’s on her terms.
Which makes for a particularly 2017 album, in the best way.