Her debut album, The Family Jewels, may have only made a mild impact on the pop charts, but that seems to have just spurned Marina Diamandis on in her quest for fame. Complete with a new paper-thin ‘persona’, Madonna-via-Marilyn look and some super-producer pals (Dr Luke, Greg Kurstin, Stargate and Diplo) in tow, Marina and the Diamonds manages to improve on her debut record, serving up more ironic pop while coming into control of her own eccentricities.
Loud and brash, ‘Bubblegum Bitch’ acts as our introdction to her new ‘persona’ as Diamandis welcomes us to the life of Electra Heart. Next up is ‘Primadonna’, a double-entendre-laden tale of a fame whore (‘going down down down, anything for the crown…’), which comes with a grinding beat courtesy of Dr Luke. Any fears that Marina’s quirks will be lost in her new slick pop sound are quickly dismissed; these feel like a clear step forward from The Family Jewels. She’s still hungry for that hit single; she’s just being more direct about it.
The album reaches an early high with the exquisite electro-ballad ‘Lies’. ‘You only ever touch me in the dark’ she sings mournfully over Diplo’s dubstep wobbles, her ubiquitous vocal tics working entirely to the song’s strength. ‘Starring Role’ tells the story of a crumbling relationship as Marina goes from stone-faced defiance (‘you don’t love me / big fucking deal’) to bitter truths (‘really I adore you and I can’t leave you alone’) and desperate pleas to stay together (‘come on baby, let’s get drunk / forget we don’t get on’). It’s a shame that the song is marred by the chorus’s awkward ‘role/role’ rhyme.
Songs such as ‘The State of Dreaming’ and ‘Teen Idle’ show how much Marina has improved as a vocalist since her debut. Her eccentric vocals are still there, moving from a high girlish whistle to comical yodel, but she’s now managing to reign them in rather than allow herself be overwhelmed by her own quirks. ‘Teen Idle’ is at once melancholic and euphoric, as she admits to feeling ‘super super suicidal’ in a deceptively chirpy squeak.
‘Living Dead’ opens with some promising Italo disco synths, but has a toe-curlingly awful chorus in which Marina repeatedly barks ‘dead dead dead dead’. Its inclusion makes the fact that the truly fantastic buzz single ‘Radioactive’ is demoted to bonus track status here all the more tragic. The brooding ‘Fear and Loathing’ (think Trent Reznor producing for Katy Perry) comes as the perfect closer for Electra Heart. Once again, Marina’s at her best with her heart on her sleeve; ‘don’t wanna live in fear and loathing / I wanna feel like I am floating’. The track slowly builds before the production disappears as she sings hauntingly, ‘when the time comes around / and the lights they go out…’, and we’re left with an eerie disembodied vocal.
Once you disregard the idea that Electra Heart is a ‘concept’ album in any shape or form you’re left with a pretty damn solid set of pop songs that make for an even stronger effort than Marina’s debut. Diamandis truly understands pop music and makes for as capable an alt-pop queen as Robyn or Róisín Murphy. As good as Electra Heart is, Marina is still the most Marmite of popstars. If you loved her before, you’ll love her even more now, but new fans will be scarce on the ground.
Go Get It: ‘Teen Idle’
Forget It: ‘Living Dead’
Marina has been forced to postpone The Lonely Hearts Club tour due to vocal chord problems. Rescheduled dates are listed on Marina’s official site.