Saturday, 16 November 2013

Lorde - Pure Heroine



Almost one year ago, Jessie Ware's Devotion finished as the runner-up on our best albums of 2012 list. We're nearing the dull end of the year, where albums start to fade out and lists galore start to appear. Devotion was released in the latter stages of 2012, giving the Mercury Prize enough time to nominate Ware. She didn't win (one half of MRD tipped Ware, one half tipped Django Django - it was won by Alt-J.) Devotion is a very important album though, not just for Ware, but for the growing female singer-songwriter and her strive to top the male fronted singer-songwriters in the electronic pop genre. R&B is becoming a powerful genre, especially in the modern electronic era; where hip-hop and electronica are hand in hand, with dubstep (though developed in to a mainstream mess) and art pop also combining to create dark sinister albums. The current Mercury Prize holder is James Blake, a clear pursuer of the above genres. It's his falsetto vocals and minimalistic recordings that have attracted the R&B heads like The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, Jessie Ware, and now Lorde to this genre influence. 

Lorde has male listeners on her side; not because she flaunts her looks, or shows skin in music videos, but because this music is attractive to both genders, all races, and all ages. It stems from her personality and influence, straight from the core. This equality and genre influence was first heard on "Bravado" from her debut EP The Love Club back in March. "Bravado", along with the titular track "The Love Club" set up Lorde's future album, Pure Heroine. Her EP featured Vocal layers replicating art pop, and dream pop like the Cocteau Twins in the 80s. It's also worth noting icons that may, and most probably have had an effect on Lorde as a person - Kate Bush being the first singer-songwriter and art pop artist that comes to mind. Lorde also takes an influence from fellow female artists in the genre like Sky Ferreira, Grimes, and to an extent, Lana Del Ray. It's the latter's hip-hop fused structure that started Pure Heroine's themes. Where Lana obsesses about being the cute beach brunette on Born To Die, Lorde does the exact opposite on Pure Heroine.

What Lorde lacks in age, she makes up in maturity. Her lyrical themes are intelligent, taking the outsiders perspective throughout Pure Heroine - not saying what can be said, but what should be said. Lorde's innocence has been the talk of the town for some time now. Some look to hype to judge, others look to beats, but Lorde's debut album shouldn't be distinguished by NME saying it "doesn't live up to the hype," or Sunday critics calling it a "one-trick-pony." Lorde is first to bridge the gap between aging youth, and diminishing media conceptions - using nostalgia and fear to appeal to all spectrums of people. This is heard on the fourth track "Ribs", where her layered vocal speaks on two different levels: the mature aging voice of vulnerability: "And I've never felt more alone, It feels so scary getting old," and the young innocent voice heard on the left: "My mom and dad let me stay home, It drives you crazy getting old." Notice she uses the word "you", instead of "me", Lorde speaks for her friends, her fans - she's the people's voice. And she isn't afraid of saying what needs to be said. "Tennis Court" opens the album with a drop of ambience and simplicity. She eases the listener in with a question: "Don't you think that it's boring how people talk?" Then goes on to deliver a well-thought out flow of unique lyricism only heard from the Western world’s arse: "Pretty soon I'll be getting on my first plane, I'll see the veins of my city like they do in space." It's very much about Lorde's impending fame, as heard with these key lyrics: "It looked alright in the pictures," and: "How can I fuck with the fun again when I'm known?" There are also references to albums by The Weeknd, and (perhaps) Manitoba. "Tennis Court" is the type of track only found on debut albums, written before, or during the inclined lift to the top.

Remember, Lorde signed to the Universal music development program when she was just 14. Song-writers have helped her develop as an artist, but overall, the majority of material here all comes from Lorde's experiences - something important to have which is one of her biggest attractions. Lorde details these experiences throughout Pure Heroine, especially on the second track "400 Lux". It's arguably her most personal tack on Pure Heroine, telling the story of her relationship with photographer James Lowe. There may be two more references here, this time its post-punk - "Killing Time" by Echo & The Bunnymen, and the band Orange Juice. It also links in with her youth and futuristic nostalgia which she will clearly have, as read with these lyrics: "Can I kill it with you? Til the veins run red and blue." This royal theme is recurring, but on "400 Lux" it's in reference to her fame and break - leaving her home in Auckland, New Zealand. It's a place she speaks of not so warmly on the sixth track "Team". Lorde recognises her country as the far out B-side to Australia, using the tracks chorus to highlight her home: "We live in cities you'll never see on screen, not very pretty but we sure know how to run things." She criticises all the glamour and bullshit in pop culture. The lyric: "I'm kind of over gettin' told to throw my hands up in the air," refers to club culture, especially the effect it has on releasing one’s body to the demands of a pop single. Her persona as Queen Bee runs through "Team", a sign of  power, and partial rebellion to an unequal society.

This same idea of a 'ruler' flows through Heroine Wild, and it's predominant on the third track "Royals". It's lyrically sound, with minimalistic production with only an electronic bass riff and reverberated percussion. Lorde sings like an emotionally powerful Fiona Apple, and a fixed Amy Winehouse. It's clearly influenced by hip-hop, but more along the lines of Vampire Weekend than N.W.A. Lorde recognises Ezra Koenig's lyricism, and has replicated that on Pure Heroine, especially with "Royals". Part of its appeal is the sweet basic flow of Lorde singing the hook: "And we'll never be royals, it don't run in our blood." Lorde tackles this idea of a superior human being, likening the royals to celebrities and stars: "But every song's like gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin' in the bathroom. Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin' the hotel room. We don't care, we're driving Cadillacs in our dreams. But everybody's like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece, Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash. We don't care, we aren't caught up in your love affair." It's all capsuled by Lorde's recurring theme of the glamorisation of teenagers and young adults by the media and through pop culture. She uses the word "we" instead of "I" again, to separate that individuality and pretentiousness from the collective grouping of her true friends, and in a sense, true teenagers that aren’t in the Disney Club or Skins.

Production on Pure Heroine has been carried out by Joel Little, a relatively unknown producer also from Auckland, New Zealand. He's Lorde's trusty beat maker, and a good one of that. His recordings range from early James Blake, which border the early dubstep sounds (Burial / Digital Mystikz) - and trip hop (Massive Attack / Portishead). Its sheer simplicity and quality over content with Pure Heroine, which is why tracks like "Buzzcut Season" standout. Nothing is messy or over produced - it's pure. Lorde sings about the media's portrayal of real life through TV series that are both classed as drama and reality: "Explosions on TV, and all the girls with heads inside a dream. So now we live beside the pool, where everything is good." Little's production is at its best on the seventh track "Glory and Gore", which mirrors the lyrics of "Team". This time, Lorde takes on pop culture in a battle, represented by the idea of gladiators being watched by the public eye. The chorus has key sentiments of Lorde's personal feelings of fame and those in the spotlight: "Glory and gore go hand in hand, that's why we're making headlines." It's followed by "Still Sane", a melancholic track about Lorde's present innocence and the future that will inevitably attempt to alter her lifestyle and life choices. There’s a dig at artists who have become successful but have been unable to manage the pressures of fame and money, something Lorde is adamant won't happen to her. She's reminiscing of her times in New Zealand, and although she isn't proud of her geographical origin, she loves it enough to reference it, and quote it as her 'little' platform. The closing lyrics: "Only bad people live to see their likeness set in stone," is a reference to Why? and their track "By Torpedo or Crohn's". 

Pure Heroine has a delicate flow, with all 10 tracks simultaneously glowing in the right order. It never loses the concept, with 37 minutes of lyrical intelligence and mature bliss. Her portrayal of real life teenagers is an aspect picked up in tracks like "White Teeth Teens" and "Buzzcut Season", with the former being a synth pop masterpiece - including its peer pressure lyrics: "Their molars blinking like the lights, in the underpass where we all sit, and do nothing, and love it." Lorde is portrayed as a 16 year old sweetheart by the media, that 'my super sweet 16' glamour has been applied to Lorde, "White Teeth Teens" is her way of rejecting that notion of her portrayed perfection. This theme is also addressed on "A World Alone". Lorde sings about bad mouthing from the growing social media and the effects it has on teenagers - free speech with no consequence. One phrase comes to mind: 'don't feed the trolls'. She sings: "Maybe the Internet raised us," to then offer a second, more sinister perspective: "Or maybe people are jerks." There's references to the anxiety fame brings, and the gossip that will dictate Lorde's interview questions. The refrain is: "But people are talking, people are talking," questioning her image. Pure Heroine finishes with an answer to the opening question first heard on "Tennis Court", "Don't you think that it's boring how people talk?" / "Let em' talk..." She acknowledges her fame, and admirably accepts the position she will find herself in. Pure Heroine is about Lorde's dreams and fears, with themes of nostalgia, anxiety, and nothingness. Of course, "Royals" is a hit, but the nine other tracks are equal in depth. There's honestly no weak tracks on Pure Heroine, it's structured to perfection, and produced knowing the influences and comparisons which are being made today. It does lack in originality, but it also mocks that same influence set by Lana Del Ray and her tigers. Lorde never comes across as pretentious, even if her persona of Queen Bee seems somewhat grand - it's more of a personal level of rule as a pure female rather than a leader. Lyrically, well Pure Heroine is a masterpiece - there's no doubting the quality of her lyrics. Little has done a fantastic job of layering Lorde's vocals, creating dreamy atmospheres like on "Ribs" and "Team", with Lorde’s femme fatale figure taking to the stage on "Glory and Gore", "Royals", and "Buzzcut Season". Pure Heroine certainly lives up to the hype, and with Little's production quality; Lorde's career can only advance. There’s an incredible amount of potential here, and Lorde knows it.
~Eddie Gibson

8.6

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