A quarter of her lifetime has passed since Lorde released Pure Heroine, her first album. Having reached an unusually lofty standing before her 17th birthday, she then retreated from the spotlight. One can only imagine the unusual stresses and strains stardom puts on the body and mind at a relatively young age, and while absent she decided to connect with real life once again.
Melodrama is the highly original sound of her route back, looking to find the beam of that spotlight once again, and willing to take its unstinting and unforgiving glare. For this is a record where Lorde is laid bare, revealing innermost thoughts, feelings and some devastating music. Her style of songwriting is modern but unconventional, tracking a story with the use of distinctly human tendencies like short attention spans, moving off in unexpected directions, and switching between feelings with rapid unpredictability.
All these traits come together in the form of Green Light. An unusually cast song, a curveball, it is the best possible way to begin Melodrama, setting the scene with that big and uplifting crescendo. It is one of those ‘build-up’ numbers people will play for self-motivation at the start of the day. It also marks the start of some breathtaking power pop running through the album. Supercut is a superb piece of work, climbing in a silver-plated car to go out driving. The song even recasts the sound picture to the muffled confines of a vehicle, Lorde urgently describing how “in your car, the radio up, we keep tryin’ to talk about us”. On headphones the listener is transported to the back seat, right in the middle of the conversation.
The quick songs, giddy with excitement, are balanced with slower numbers that reveal the soul in all its fragile glory. Liability is one such moment, opening up to an invisible counsellor over a descending piano line, the singer’s distinctively low voice singing intriguingly of how “I guess I’ll go home, into the arms of the girl that I love, the only love I haven’t screwed up”. She might even be talking of herself here. Sober II (Melodrama) then melts under the sweetness of its strings with soft, cherubic vocals.
Writer In The Dark has an extraordinary chorus where Lorde sounds like a young Kate Bush. “I am my mother’s child, I love you til my breathing stops, I love you til you call the cops on me” is its frankly terrifying but inspirational central line. Then the closing Perfect Places unites the heady chase for thrills and the fragile soul beneath: “All the night spent off our faces, trying to find these perfect places,” she sings, before giving up the ghost at the end. “What the fuck are perfect places anyway?”
It is worth noting that Lorde is not even 21 yet, but already she is making albums that delight, challenge, make you wince, make you dance, but also make you think. Melodrama delivers everything pop music should, but yet it manages to find more. As an album it is unlikely to be bettered in 2017.