2 years ago, Marina & the Diamonds – AKA Marina Diamandis – came to musical prominence by uttering the words; “Guess what? I’m not a robot, a robot”. Not your average pop-based lyrics then and the song was quickly followed by ‘Hollywood’; a clever and cynical take on America’s (unhealthy) obsession of commercial and celebrity culture. Despite not being a fan of either single, Diamandis’s unique sound and look was pretty noteworthy. Indeed, after a performance at Reading Festival and a proper listen to The Family Jewels, I was hooked; in an album ranging from 80‘s new wave in ‘The Outsider’ to bubblegum pop ‘Oh No! to dark-brooding pianos of ‘Obsessions’, it was clear that she was not just another UK girl-pop revival act alongside Florence & the Machine, Little Boots, La Roux & Pixie Lott.
Yet, since then, it seems Marina has been an artist torn between her own musical direction and fame. In a interview she gave last year, she declared she was unhappy with her limited success, stating that she should be up there with Lady Gaga and Shakira. The consequence? Marina has eradicated the past, changed her sound and look and moved away from her arty indie-pop. The result is Electra Heart; a alter-ego concept album of sorts around this Electra Heart character – the antithesis of Marina herself – with cinematic themes of the American dream, femininity and love. Sound familiar? All in all, its not that stylistically different than Lana Del Rey – Marina has followed suit with the ‘here-is-my-face-looking-vintage’ album cover – but musically, the comparisons are limited.
In fact, such a change can be immediately heard in lead single ‘Primadonna’; a euro-beat slice of electro pop and with cheerleader whoops of “yeah!” and “ohhh!”, the song sounds perfected for Top 40 radio. Consequently, comparisons to other female artists of an attempted ‘mainstream eccentric’ look, such as Katy Perry have been rife. Unsurprising then that the song has co-writers whose recent compositions include Madonna’s ‘Masterpiece’, Ke$ha’s ‘Tik Tok’ and pretty much ever hit from the Katy Perry’s single catalogue. The payoff has worked though; with ‘Primadonna’ becoming a staple on Radio One – “Marina who?” quickly becoming “I love Marina & the Diamonds” – and going on to become her highest charting single with a number one album to boot.
Yet, it is unfair to lambaste an album purely on its more populist feel. What then of the other songs on this sophomore effort? ‘Primadonna’ was apparently just one song of a quartet, meant to be themed around the personality of Electra Heart. ‘Homewrecker’ appears nothing more than just a repetition of the title interluded with a cringe-worthy spoken word and wails, all backed by music that a keyboard can produce with the press of a button. Indeed, it is a shame teaser-single ‘Radioactive’ makes no appearance on the album (it makes the deluxe edition) for it follows a similar structure but with far more aplomb and listenability. However, the other two are definitely more worthy of attention. ‘Bubblegum Bitch’ makes a valiant attempt at a fast-paced dance number and works as a good introduction for the whole album; though the lyric “Ms sugar pink, licka licka lick” is certainly a bit grating. ‘Teen Idle’ comes as close as the album ever does to The Family Jewels; a staggering, building song with Marina no long hiding behind beats, but allowing her lyrics and trademark stuttering vocals to propel the song but with cheerleader Marina whoops still apparently needed.
Indeed, this seems a familiar problem with the album in that the producers didn’t trust Marina’s style and voice, overproducing every facet of the album. ‘Power & Control’ does this to such an extent that Marina is drowned out by the resounding drum-beats and Rihanna-like backing vocals. ‘Lies’ similarly, is no doubt a very good pop track, but when the chorus pops in, it sounds more like a single from The Saturdays than from the artist who brought the lyrical dynamism of ‘Hollywood’. Indeed, with the themes struggling, it appears just as a pop album masquerading as something more.
There is hope however. ‘Living Dead’ shows a new 80s synth-pop side to Marina and brings some diversity to an album dominated by electo-beats. Indeed, ‘The State of Dreaming’ with its hazy-like ambience and wispy soaring vocals is melodramatic, but is one of the only songs that invokes any real emotional attachment. It is at these moments Marina comes out of the album, not hiding behind the glossy beats, but revealing her vocal fragilities for all to see. Indeed, it clear that she struggles to show herself well in the fast-paced electro songs that the album is laced with throughout, while she shines in the normally self-written ballads. Last track ‘Fear and Loathing’ is the pinnacle of this, both musically and vocally excellent with Diamandis sounding like a folky Kate Bush.
In many ways, Marina falls into the same pitfalls that lead Del Rey to receive such abuse; the whole image and concept is not believable; too slick and overproduced, it appears purely as professional repackaging of an artist. No doubt Electra Heart will find an audience – and increase her fan-base – but, in doing so, Marina has lost the very style and identity that differentiated her from her contemporaries. Despite the early signs, Marina is looking to turn out to be just another lifeless product from the Katy Perry-eqsue pop factory; maybe a robot after all then?