As if following up a two-time Grammy-winning, five million-selling, number one hit-spawning debut album wasn’t a daunting enough task, New Zealand’s finest pop export Lorde has only heaped on the pressure by waiting four years to release it.
Of course, there’s been the odd guest feature (Disclosure’s “Magnets”), the occasional high-profile live gig (the David Bowie tribute at last year’s BRIT Awards) and her stellar work on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack in the meantime. But like her occasional on-stage collaborators Haim – who are also returning this summer with a follow-up to their 2013 debut – there’s still a worry that she may have missed the boat.
But the 20-year-old hasn’t established a reputation as pop’s coolest customer for nothing, and for the most part, the more expansive-sounding Melodrama – largely co-written and co-produced in New York by fun.’s Jack Antanoff – proves to be worth the wait.
Indeed, based on the aftermath of a break-up, and in the midst of a single house party, the semi-concept album cleverly manages to bridge the gap between the insular gloom pop of Pure Heroine and the more uplifting house music that has dominated the charts in its wake.
Hitmaker Max Martin may not think so, but the ‘incorrect songwriting’ of lead single “Green Light” is a particular triumph, segueing from a solemn piano ballad into a euphoric dance anthem with the kind of effortless grace we’ve come to expect. Even more impressive is that it does so without a marimba riff, contrived breathless vocal hook or pitch-shifted chorus in sight.
Indeed, Melodrama may regularly venture onto the dancefloor, but that doesn’t mean Lorde has lost her intensity or her fondness for the odd leftfield turn. Just listen to the Flume-produced “The Louvre,” in which she implores, ‘Broadcast the boom boom boom boom and make them all dance to it’ over a strange brew of indie guitars and dubby atmospherics; or the powerful vocal delivery on “Hard Feelings/Loveless,” a two-part epic which initially echoes the moodiness of her debut before offering a slightly subdued take on the feisty brat-pop of Charli XCX.
Melodrama is undoubtedly richer-sounding than its predecessor, but the songs here never feel too busy or over-produced, even on the string-soaked trap of “Sober II (Melodrama)” and “Perfect Places,” a nostalgic party jam about blowing up the speakers co-penned by Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt – a man no stranger to maximalist pop.
There’s also a couple of moments when Lorde strips away any studio trickery completely. An ode to the damaging effect that fame can have on relationships (“the truth is I am a toy/that people enjoy/’til all of the tricks don’t work anymore/and then they are bored of me”) second single “Liability” is a fragile and sparse affair in which she’s accompanied by just a haunting piano. There’s also a similarly pared-down feel to “Writer in the Dark,” a cathartic banshee ballad which echoes the windswept theatrics of vintage Kate Bush.
Still only 20 years old, Lorde could have been forgiven for floundering under the weight of expectation. Instead she’s reasserted her status as today’s ultimate alt-pop artist with a record that balances the contemporary with the classic in typically immaculate style.