on April 22, 2014
It's nice to know that as time goes by the best may be yet to come.
Lorde steels herself on Pure Heroine against praise or blame on both the opening and final songs on the album. On the first song, she starts out, "Don't you think it's boring how people talk?". On the last song, after repeating the phrase "people are talking" over and over, she closes, with, "Let them talk."
If you liked "Royals" and want to hear some more equally exciting music, do get the album. Every song is as good, if not better. I bought this record because I heard it playing on a public address system, and was first captivated by the opening song's electronic ambiance, plunging synthesizer chords, and cryptic chorus, "Baby be the class clown, I'll be the beauty queen in tears, it's a new art form, showing how little we care, yeah." I thought, wow that is really great, and then was amazed that the next song was just as good, as was the next and the next one, right up to the close. The consistency bowled me over. There's no doubt that co-writer,-producer Joel Little and Lorde had an intense but fun time making it, and they mean it to be an engaging record on every track, from start to finish.
"Royals," which to some extent succeeds, I think, in puncturing a few highly deserving-to-be-deflated popular music trends, may be the most upbeat song on the disc. ("400 Lux has a fabulous rocking beat, but not without a bleak edge to it). This might account for the opinion of other reviewers here that the other songs are weaker. I found many of the other songs stronger in musical terms; but in emotional terms they are relatively serious, moody, introspective. In "Royals," Lorde turns towards popular culture and mocks it; satire is fun, so "Royals" is more engaging than the rest of the songs. These, by turns, are introspective, quirky, melancholy, bittersweet, juvenile, and self-absorbed-- and so, in terms of accessibility, not as listener-friendly. They offer rewards and invite you to go below the surface, though. It's not exactly clear what 400 Lux is about, something to do with going out and driving around in the car, it seems, which is a timeless rock and roll theme. But maybe there's more. I read an interpretation at songmeanings.com about a connection in the images with heroin-usage that was fairly convincing and put a few things in the song in perspective. "World Alone" goes from decrying bullying in the internet age to reminding the bullies and us all that "one day we'll all be still."
One complaint I've read in a few reviews is that being a wee teenager Lorde's lyrics are tediously overladen with grousing about getting old. From the evidence in these songs, though, that's a broad topic. The loss may sometimes the hardest at the age she wrote these songs, as she puts into words on the song "Ribs." There is more left behind around that age than we'll ever leave behind again. Most of the mockers are simply old people I think, which proves the point. It's called self-awareness.
Another complaint I've noted is that the songs all sound the same. This gripe, I understand to some extent. There is a similarity in instrumentation and production throughout, which can seem monotonous. However, in musical terms of rhythm, harmony, & melody, and lyric wise, Pure Heroine is an adventure throughout. Plenty of different musical designs are explored and taken on, and some of the results are impressive feats of musical conception and execution. I think it may be they didn't have too much to work with production-wise and made the best of what they had. "Royals" wasn't backed by a lot of money; rather, it went to the top on its own merits. I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do next, now they have a lot more production options.
I think the vocals on this record are some of the greatest ever put on a pop record. I was struck, on my first hearing of "Royals" on the radio that the quality of the vocals was unprecedented. Lorde has a disciplined, agile, and, often quite pretty, voice, the power of which she plays out generally in carefully crafted backgroud parts. Although she sings in a sultry, baby-talking low range most of the time on lead vocals, her voice is stellar from highest to lowest notes. In some songs, if you didn't know all the voices were all Lorde, you'd think that she had assembled the most astoundingly talented backup singers of all time ("Still Sane," for example).
I don't want to be totally all-raving about the Pure Heroine (even though I think this is one of the greatest records ever made). It has some weaknesses. There's a tendency on Pure Heroine to not take the effort to fashion an ending to the songs. Most of them come to an abrupt stop, or sound like they got exhausted and passed out. Happening on one song, this might be a novelty. Happening on about all of the songs, it tends to be a dull signature and conveys a lack of imagination. (She neatly sidesteps this with a beautiful faux-ending on "400 Lux".) Also, the musical stylings, as noted above, are not very broad. Her co-songwriter, I read, moved Lorde along paths he has long admired, those that were pioneered by Prince and maybe another couple of soul crossover artists in the 80's. (The ghost of "Little Red Corvette" lurks here and there.) I really loved that music, so I'm not complaining. I'm hoping that later Lorde will surprise us with something in a totally different sound setting, retaining rhythm, vocals, & melody just as sympathetic and compelling as they are here. The playing though is superb. The album sleeve credits Joel Little, Lorde's co-writer and producer on all instruments. He gives their songs the care they deserve. Bass, drums, percussion, keyboards. It's quite a feat. There is an interplay between the music and the vocals throughout, with the former attentive to the latter, sometimes on percussion especially.
The vocals sound to me like a high point in any time. If pop singing gets any better than this, I'll love to hear it. The melodies she sings can be quite catchy and winning, with a frankness and gentleness that is really moving. She's setting a new standard for what pop singing can attain. At times, it sounds like some of the singing is peaking up to the upper layers of pop vocal arrangement towards symphonic choral work.
There's so much to like about this record if you are into this sort of thing. God bless the child.