The second album is, as the clich goes, an incredibly difficult and daunting prospect for any artist, particularly an artist working in the hyperspeed world of contemporary pop. But Marina Diamandis is far from any pop artist. Her second album Electra Heart is an ambitious concept work that manages to combine progressive and intelligent songwriting with some stone cold massive pop hits.
It is an album about love and the nature of female identity, and it is kind of re-enacted through four female character types which are kind of stereotypes, Marina explains with a clear enthusiasm for the concept. Youve got the Primadonna, the Teen Idle, the Homewrecker and the Suburban Housewife, the Stepford Wife. Thats the basics.
These characters that Marina outlines, the Archetypes as she calls them, have already appeared in the online videos on her blog that tell the story of Electra Heart, beginning with Part 1 Fear And Loathing, which was revealed last August. The video features strikingly stark imagery of a plaintive Marina staring solemnly into the mirror while cutting off her hair.
Despite Marina taking on the role of these characters in the promotional videos, she stresses that there is still a large part of herself in them. I think people use characters or stories to kind of mask the truth or to make it appear as if its the opposite of them, but really to create something you have to relate to that. So I think a lot of it is of me.
Marina And The Diamonds’ debut album, 2010s The Family Jewels, established Marina as one of the UK’s most ambitious pop artists, and Electra Heart sees her pushing that ambition to a completely new level. There are echoes of David Bowie and his ability to inhabit different characters and mindsets. I really like the idea of an album with a message,” she says. “I always gravitate towards artists who produce concepts and change their images wildly. I did that from the start of this album and I also knew the title way before I decided what it actually meant, so all I wanted to do was that.
“People use characters or stories to kind of mask the truth or to make it appear as if its the opposite of them, but really to create something you have to relate to that.” – Marina Diamandis
With a title and clear concept to build on, Marina has been able to push her sound forward into new, more expansive territory. Perhaps the best example of her adoption of a new and overtly pop direction is Electra Hearts lead single Primadonna. The contrast in sound and style with the more restrained Family Jewels is marked, and Primadonna and Electra Heart see Marina coming to terms with her place in the modern pop pantheon. She was not always so at ease with the notion of pop music though, as she embarked on her early career. At the time I was an obnoxious individual and I kind of blabbed my mouth without thinking about what I was saying,” she recalls of those days, “and I think I was very against the idea of being pop and entering into pop culture in a big way because I felt like I was unable to do it with the first album.” Why? “Because it was still deemed as an alternative album, and I wanted to do really well.
Marina feels that Electra Heart is a creative challenge for both herself and her audience. I think with this one I just want to challenge my own point of view and just be more honest that I do want to be a pop artist, she says emphatically, explaining that she has always been something more than a singer-songwriter. Im not like some, yknow, indie artist who has come from like the backwards of nowhere, musing on her guitar; its like thats not me. I was auditioning for girl bands when I was 19, and the fact is that Ive become a DIY artist and come up that way is because no one would work with me. Ive had to do it myself so its just kind of been an obvious progression, I think. But I think people will, yknow, it will take time for them to understand that and get used to it.
Primadonnas anthemic dance pop sounds, characterised by huge synthesisers and booming beats, represent a significant change in sound for Marina. But it is a track that was always earmarked to be a single and is a key track in the Electra Heart story. It kind of picks itself. I was aware Id had some tasters out already, like Fear And Loathing, and Radioactive as well, and there were two other choices, and they were very electronic and dark, and I didnt think it was the right start for Electra Heart. Primadonna encapsulated everything that I wanted to say about female stereotypes. I just felt like nothing else would be the first single, and my label agreed with me, so we went with that.
Primadonna may be a change in sound, but the release of the earlier single Radioactive laid the groundwork for exploring a different direction. Marina agrees that Radioactive helped to ease her fans into it. I think my decision to do Radioactive last summer was probably a good thing, because if I hadnt, they would have heard this new sound and been quite shocked by it, whereas Radioactive really helped me in stopping this kind of genre pinpointing, when people put you in a box and they think you can do nothing else, so that was really helpful to me. And Ive had a really, really shockingly good reaction to it, so Im really happy.
Esteemed pop producer Dr Luke, who has worked with Ke$ha, Britney Spears and Katy Perry amongst others, produced Primadonna and album track Lies, and it is his bright sound and gift for sprinkling tracks with pop stardust that give Electra Heart a thrilling, invigorating quality. He was really refreshing to work with, she says. I had preconceived notions of what he stood for and what I would turn out if I worked with him, but I just think he is a really inspiring person. The way in which he writes is very different to other people.
Dr Luke is in fact just one of four producers and collaborators that have worked with Marina on the album, each one brining their own significant and unique contribution, as Marina explains. Greg Kurstin and Liam Howe I worked with on the first one. Liams usually producing the songs that I write on my own, that have more of a pretty vibe and are more organic and atmospheric; hes really good at textures. Greg, hes the bridge between pop and alternative, he did Living Dead and three others. And then Rick Knowles produced half the album. Hes like a really old-school American songwriter, I really adore him, and I guess what he brought to the record was the ability to make me feel really comfortable, which in turn made me invest myself more in the lyrical side. And I think that is definitely one of the differences between this and the first album.
“Primadonna encapsulated everything that I wanted to say about female stereotypes.” – Marina Diamandis
Marina bristles at the suggestion that the abundance of producers may lead to the album sounding slightly incoherent. Its really weird that people keep saying this because I think when you work with bigger producers everyone gets their backs up. And with this album I purposefully tick boxes that I know will make people judge me differently. Ive changed my style wildly, changed my hair, worked with bigger producers because its almost as if I find it interesting for people to see me differently. The first album The Family Jewels was done by six different people,” she points out. “But the second album is a lot truer to what I am and actually, half of it was produced by two people, so it is a bit more coherent than the first record.
Her second album sees a clear improvement in her songwriting abilities too; an improvement that Marina puts down to simplifying her lyrical approach. Im trying to do the same as on the first album but I dont think I quite managed it, in that I wanted to write accessible lyrics. It wasnt about criticising pop culture at all; it was more about pulling on stereotypes and having commentary on pop culture. She agrees that on her Electra Heart her message comes across far more clearly. With this one Ive just become a far more confident songwriter and I hope I have managed to do that better this time and make things a little more clearer.
One of the key things about the whole Electra Heart project is the visuals and artwork, and there is a clear theme developed throughout all the imagery, a theme of faded glamour and stylised grandeur with Marina prominent throughout. It is her direction and influence that runs through all the imagery, she says. I was involved a lot more than on the first album, just because I was too shy to address some people’s opinions of me and of how I should look. I think for this one I just took a lot of care with the visual side of things. I know what I want this time and I have a very specific idea of who I am as an artist and what I want to portray myself as.
Marina goes on to promise that there will be more videos to come that expand even further on the story of Electra Heart. It appears that she sees the album as more of an all encompassing multi-media project than a mere 12 track pop record. With the whole Archetypes project, I know a lot of people who hear my music won’t find out about that, but I think it is really essential to the whole project and there are going to be more videos coming out in the future, just little home made ones. But thats what builds up the bulk of the message, and the whole vision, because sometimes Im just crap at saying what I mean. So it’s much easier for me to do it in the form of a photograph or a video.
Performing live is where Marina is at her best. Her own forthcoming UK tour and, indeed, support slots with Coldplay on their European and US tours, allow Marina And The Diamonds to bring Electra Heart to life. My first tour is called the Lonely Hearts Club tour and I have a lot of plans for it; its quite exciting,” she bubbles, adding that there is a going to be a subtle theatrical element to the show. Its based in theatre and the stage. For example if you go to see a play, you know the difference in stage direction and the shift in characters a lot more. Thats definitely the vibe I want to adapt for my shows.
During our short chat it is clear that, with the Electra Heart project, Marina has made her grand statement of expression about herself as an artist and the world in which she inhabits. Electra Heart certainly promises to be one of the more intelligent pop records of 2012.
Marina And The Diamonds’s album Electra Heart is out on 30 April 2012 through 679.