16 March 2015

Froot - Marina and the Diamonds

Marina and the Diamonds are back in style with third album Froot. After a couple of records, many artists would have exhausted their vocabularies and either reverted to previous themes, or succumbed to generic pop tropes. Not Marina though. The Welsh songstress, real name Marina Diamandis, does indeed riff on topics covered previously, but breaks substantial new ground too. 

One of the things I really like about Marina is the way she blends conflicting elements so slickly. Her usual embodiment of this would be downbeat lyrics set to a pacey instrumental, and happily you can find this setup Froot. Inspired by the global climate, this is reliably introspective and self-damning, whilst also offering glimmers of assurance. One particular example is in Gold, where Diamandis questions whether she really is an outsider, or if it's just everyone else that's weird.

The rest of the album could certainly be said to support this viewpoint. The upbeat Savages goes into the true horror in all of us, while Immortal questions who we choose to put our faith in once again and Can't Pin Me Down talks of necessary switching of allegiance. There's much else to enjoy on this album though. The quietly optimistic Happy is lusciously rousing, and the title track is a traditionally catchy track.

This is a wonderfully-produced collection too. More than many other contemporary artists, Diamandis has an album that feels like a complete, continuous whole. The arrangements are frequently breathtaking and inspiring. The use of percussion, piano, guitars, synthesisers and more is typically well-pitched. Another excellent album.

1. Happy (9/10)

Diamandis starts the album slowly, building gradually to the announcement of confidence she has found between albums to do what she wants, and go her own way. This is a very emotive and moving track, thanks to subtle percussion and a lovely accompanying piano part. It might be interesting to note that Happy, released in 2014 as part of the Froot of the Month promotion strategy, was named this site's favourite track of last year (more here).

2. Froot (7.5/10)

Unashamedly pop-infused, the title track bounces from anthemic chorus to sparse verse with joyous ease. This is catchier than the common cold, and it knows it. Froot is one of the more disposable tracks on the album, but at the same sums up what it's all about. Diamandis sings of hopes - both building and trashing them - over enjoyably scatty guitar melodies.
3. I'm a Ruin (8/10)

Like Happy, I'm a Ruin is a gradual ballad that expands on all that's come before to give a very pleasing end result. It's the track that convinced me Froot was going to be a success. It should be said that the album version is far superior to the single edit too, allowing precious extra seconds to explore the themes of introspection and self-loathing that were so prevalent on Diamandis' earlier albums.

4. Blue (9.5/10)

My favourite track on the album opens with some haunting synth ghosts, but soon transforms into an upbeat number reminiscent of The Family Jewels' sound. As Diamandis explores further her insecurities and addictions, excellently inventive and knowing lyrics overlay a great instrumental. This is a very progressive track too, and one of my favourite variety of Diamandis', with contrasting emotions between lyrics and instruments. A very strong song indeed.

5. Forget (7/10)

The majority of us have done things which we'd like to forget, and regret is a topic covered most prominently here, on Froot's fifth track. Across the track's four minutes, we move from out-and-out despondence to a state where the singer is ready to move on. At almost the halfway point in the album, this is a crucial point. From here onwards, the tone switches from sorrow to defiance, as it's declared that the singer are not in the wrong after all. Whilst it's not as notable a tune as others on the record, it's crucial to its narrative nonetheless.

6. Gold (9/10)

The album's most curious track starts with Mowgli's Road-style atmospherics, ushering in an assuredly different feel. The chorus is insanely good, and this is something of an opportunity for the lyrics to take a step back, pushing more of the instrumental parts to the fore. However, just as you take your eye off the ball, Diamandis delivers some of her most intricately-plotted lyrics to date, as she embraces new perspectives. Gold is unusually outwardly-critical, and it makes a refreshing change.

7. Can't Pin Me Down (8/10)

Embracing the carefree attitude hinted at in the previous two tracks, Can't Pin Me Down explores Diamandis' escapism desires as she cuts all ties with her history. Riffing on the themes of Forget, this is quite an indulgent piece, but an addictively catchy one. It also features the album's sole expletive, a well-timed "motherfucker" that makes you want to punch the air. For that alone, the seventh track earns itself another point.

8. Solitaire (6/10)

Perhaps Froot's least remarkable song, Solitaire is melodically sound, but sparse in other areas. As Diamandis longs for silence and solitude, the accompaniment becomes slowly dimmer. While a breather may have been necessary around this point of the album, from what I can tell, it would have worked equally well without it, despite being a pleasant enough track. My main issue with Solitaire is how little it says about... well, anything, really.

9. Better Than That (9/10)

Rising back to the heights of Blue and Gold, Better Than That deals with self-improvement like no track around it. This has really fun guitar parts all over it, from lead to bass. Joined by a toe-tapping beat, Electra Heart makes something of a return as Diamandis sings of using and disposing of men. At the same time, this almost feels reminiscent in terms of its progression and break downs. The multi-tracked finale is glorious.

10. Weeds (6.5/10)
Taking literal cues from its title, Weeds is another track in the vein of Solitaire. Although it makes a go at an analogy of weeds growing back, which could of course be taken to refer to some kind of inescapable addiction, this seems to me to be concerned mainly with sex. It's a slower track, but totally different from Happy or I'm a Ruin at the other end of the record. I can't put my finger on it, but there's something missing from Weeds. Perhaps another verse and some more synths would've done it.

11. Savages (8.5/10)

Savages is one of Marina's famed decomposition's of modern society, in a more explicit way than Froot has offered us so far. It's true the world is a depressing place to live nowadays, but Diamandis chooses to satirise our faith ("I'm not afraid of God, I'm afraid of man") with a cutting ear for a hook. This is perhaps the most morally-focussed track of the album, and one of the most enjoyable. The track's setup is stirring and memorable, without ever feeling repetitive. This is the kind of song that proves Diamandis can still write the kind of cutting analysis we saw on her previous two albums.

12. Immortal (7/10)

This is a bit of an odd choice to close the album in my opinion. It brings the pace back down again after Savages got us all worked up, and of all the lyrics on Froot, Immortal's are those most centred on the break-up that partially inspired it. It plays out much like an apology, but takes the themes of the last half-dozen songs (throwaway, manipulation and independence) and mixes them all into an affirmed dismissal of others. After all else is lost, we still have love, Diamandis tells us, and that's rather a beautiful sentiment to end on for now.

There's no question that Froot is another success for Marina. It's possibly her most insular album, taking note of what's worked from her previous two albums, and creating from them a satisfyingly wholesome piece. 

With highlights in the form of Blue, Happy and Gold (my top three), this is an essential album to own, not only for its refreshing social commentary, but for its enjoyable arrangements and use of structure. Diamandis' versatile voice is used wonderfully, providing weight to her insightful lyrics. David Kosten (better known as Faultline)'s production affords the tracks a sense of continuity, whilst giving each its own identity, pleasingly.

Such wit and intelligence as are present here is something of a rarity nowadays. This reviewer can't help but wish there were more of Diamandis' ilk, giving an honest but stylised view of the world as they see it.

This is more than a collection of twelve (great) songs. This is a masterclass of an album, and if there's to be something to better it in 2015, I'm all ears. In a culture of instant gratification and disposable media, it makes a change to hear something that will inevitably last.

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