“Who runs the world?” hollered Beyoncé a few years ago. The answer was, of course, “girls”, and although the political system may still be run on a predominately patriarchal level, it’s undeniable that the vast majority of interesting and creative pop music is being created by females at the moment. For every pale, uninteresting boy with a guitar and a hat, there’s the bratty charm of Charli XCX, the universal appeal of Taylor Swift – and even an old hand like Madonna can win headlines simply by falling down some stairs at an awards ceremony.
So, where does Marina Diamandis fit into this brave new female-centric pop world? Froot is the Welsh singer’s third album, and despite the fact that her last album Electra Heart was a big commercial and critical success, there’s always been the nagging suspicion that Marina And The Diamonds are a bit too aloof, a bit too knowing, a bit too quirky to be fully embraced by the public. There’s also the issue that Diamandis is a bit too unclassifiable for her own good – and while that’s often a trait to be encouraged, it can also result in a lack of proper identity.
Froot addresses these problems head-on – in an about-turn from Electra Heart which employed a huge range of producers, songwriters and various sundry guests, Diamandis’ third album is pretty much a straight collaboration between her and Greg Kurstin (a member of The Bird And The Bee, but these days best known for being a songwriter-for-hire for the likes of Sia, Lily Allen and Kelly Clarkson). The result is an album that’s undoubtedly tightly focused, if still a bit all over the place stylistically.
For example, the opening track, Happy is the sort of song that would probably end most albums – a big piano ballad about the passing of a depression and the grasping of a new start. It’s a beautiful song, but feels odd to kick off the album, especially when it’s followed by the big pop-disco banger that is the title track. It’s disorientating, but it’s not a feeling that lasts very long as that title track is one of the great pop singles of last year: sunny, danceable, catchy and filled with enough innuendo to make even Miley Cyrus blush. Well, maybe not.
Given the bright, uptempo nature of much of the album, there’s an oddly introspective mood to many of the tracks. I’m A Ruin is a beautifully bittersweet post-break up song, made all the starker by the following Blue, which also mines the topic of heartbreak. It’s here that Diamandis sounds at her best, her voice often breaking with emotion as she sings lyrics like “I just want to be held when I’m scared, and all I want is one night with you”. The longing and yearning is palpable and it makes for a spine-tingling listen.
Froot is very much a front-loaded album, with the album’s strongest tracks all coming within the first 20 minutes or so. If the rest of the album had been as good as its start, then we could have been looking at one of the pop albums of the year. As it is, in the record’s second half, there’s a fair bit of forgettable filler that doesn’t make too much of an impression. There are some exceptions – the sassy and funny Can’t Pin Me Down sees Diamandis directly address her detractors (“Do you really want me to write a feminist anthem? I’m happy cooking dinner in the kitchen for my husband”), and Savages is a beautifully stark and icy ballad, but overall there are a few too many mid-tempo plodders in the mix.
Flawed as it may be at times, Froot emerges as Diamandis’ strongest album to date, mainly because it’s the first one that strongly stamps her own personality on proceedings. Some of this particular Froot may not be fully ripe just yet, but it promises a decent harvest in the not too distant future.