Thundering, stellar electronic...magnetic, glacial vocals...whip-smart, womanly, lyrical wit...jokes as good as 'The Valley of The Lolls'...
Marina and The Diamonds second album, 'Electra Heart', is not so much a creative leap forward, more an Olympian pole-vault over the bar of talented-newcomer into the global amphitheatre of a cultivated Classic. Two years on from her top 5 debut 'The Family Jewels' (300,000 copies sold), the self-styled avant-garde “D.I.Y artist” has detonated her own experimental past and landed feet first in the future with 'Electra Heart', a stunningly ambitious, seamless, cohesive and confident sonic pulsar spinning between electro-pop euphoria and come-down melancholia. The album is produced by a cache of old school and A-List producers: Dr Luke (Katy Perry) and Liam Howe (Sneaker Pimps) but mostly (9 out of 12 songs) Greg Kurstin (Lily Allen, Kylie) and Rick Nowels (Madonna, Stevie Nicks, Lykke Li). A hook-packed stunner with the sonic ambition of a one-woman Depeche Mode, her onetime theatrical vocals now effortlessly soar between spectral, commanding and towering power-pop, finding her vocal identity in an album about a loss of it.
“I wanted to challenge myself, I have consciously done everything I set out not to, originally” says Marina. “Sing about Love. Work in the world of American Pop. Co-write. It was a really enjoyable period in my life. The music has energy and aggression and my vocals are much more controlled and detached… It's lyrically quite bitter, but comically so. I love black humour".
'Electra Heart' is a thematic riot, a British Eccentric, 21st Century concept caper where the album title represents a series of female archetypes, not so much an alter-ego as a beautifully-constructed prism, through which Marina projects a series of meticulously-realised female characters as a foil for telling her story, the one about mismatched lovers.
“'Electra Heart' is an Ode to dysfunctional love,” she explains. “I based the project around character types commonly found in love stories, film and theatre. I guess it was a way of dealing with the embarrassment that, for the first time in my life, I got 'played'. Rejection is a universally embarrassing topic and Electra Heart is my response to that, creating character types to enable me to express personal experiences I would never confess in real life. Weakness and defeat in love are things I don't particularly want talk about, so I guess I've written a whole album about it. Whatever an artist does not want to admit, that is what the artist writes about. It's a very frank album but hopefully funny too”
The songs, mostly recorded in L.A in 2011, were written on-the-road through America in 2010, teased into life on Marina's £100 keyboard or sung into her lap-top in the back of her tour-bus bedroom, “watching the corn fields flying by and making sense of the message that American culture employs; that you can be anyone and do anything, go anywhere and lose yourself- start afresh and forget whatever the truth is”. The song titles tell the story - from throbbing first single 'Primadonna' to the robo-pop of 'Bubblegum Bitch' to the haughty spoken-word soliloquies of 'Homewrecker' – a fantasy roll-call of “fairly vengeful characters”. These are inspired by her love for American Pop culture's artifice, “I am attracted to emptiness, to the fake in us. Aside from love, perception and deception are central themes in "Electra Heart", that's why I changed my hair- because the archetypal star is always blonde". She says " I used to think of the female superstars, Marilyn, Madonna, Britney Spears, and wonder if they would have had the same career paths if they had been brunettes” and her uncharacteristic behaviour in a brief but life-altering relationship, where she changed herself to comply with a boy's ideals to win his heart. “The type of girl who maintains a level of artifice and illusion in order to hold his intrigue. I am nothing like that. I was sad to pretend I was someone else all the time”.
Hence the many faces of 'Electra Heart' and her revolving door persona. It's also a visual project, with vast, camp and cerebral touchstones as befits her analytical brain: “Cindy Sherman, Jenny Holzer, Dolly Parton, Chuck Pahlaniuk, Madonna, Jayne Mansfield's Pink Palace, Valley of the Dolls, Pierre Et Gilles, Britney Spears, Love... Boys... Fear.” She's also created a website, 'The: Archetypes', featuring images of 'Electra Heart' split into four character-type categories: "The Homewrecker", "Su-Barbie-A", "Teen Idles" and "Stars & Queens". All fabulous hair, kitschy 50's costumes and a pun-tastic way with a caption, from “Miss Shellfish Beach 1985” and "Mother's Ruined" to “VALLEY OF THE LOLS.”
Welsh by birth, kaleidoscopic by nature, Marina Diamandis is a serial college drop-out who once dressed up as a boy to audition for a reggae boy-band, hoping to amuse the record label into signing her. After further failed auditions (girl bands, musicals), in a fit of ambitious pique, she taught herself piano and created Marina and The Diamonds in 2005 (it's just her, the Diamonds are the audience). She was a MySpace generation D.I.Y powerhouse who hand-made and sold her own CDs to Rough Trade until being signed to Warner Music Group's '679 Recordings' in 2008. Acclaimed overnight as an intriguing, confrontational and theatrical amalgam of Kate Bush and PJ Harvey, she was nominated in 2010 for both the Brits Critic's Choice Award and the BBC Sound of 2010. She looks back on her early years, now, with some ambivalence. “I experimented with my voice a lot, I was young, amateurish and ambitious” she decides. “I feel different now. My voice is far more controlled and my writing style has matured. For me, it's a real, coherent step-up. I would love to one day be a great artist.”
2012, then, sees her reach her potential as an outstanding British song-writing talent and dazzling pop performer, an uncompromising spirit and pop-art intellectual who singlehandedly fashions the ideas for her art-work, videos, website content and striking live performances. In 2012 she embarks on both a UK headline tour and as support to the mighty Coldplay, jet-packed onto the mainstream stage on their colossal European Stadium Tour, at the band's personal request. The concept of 'Electra Heart', meanwhile, below its multi-fold messages, is deceptively simple. "It just about love” she concludes. “Every one of us relates to love songs. To being hurt. But I wanted to chronicle it in a raw and truthful way, almost make a (visual) gimmick out of the thing I feared most. Everything else is just based around my love for photography, sharp humour and a fascination with transient identities. If you are who you are, then why do you change around certain people? Why do we spend our entire lives trying to become ourselves, when we are born as no one else? I always want to try and cement who I am. But I never can. That's why I write songs”
She also, incidentally, enjoys a curious neurological condition called synaesthesia which means associating musical notes, numbers and days of the week with colour. So what colour is Tuesday?
“Tuesday is green,” she assures, as befits a proper pop star.
TRACK BY TRACK
'Bubblegum Bitch': Frenetic synth-pop bedlam from 1981 meets 1997. “It's late 90s Britney charm, turned inside out.”
'Primadonna': Smell the waft of poppers across the festival field as a throbbing, fuchsia cloud thunders over your head. “Channelling the archetype of The Star, asking for adoration.”
'Lies': A haunting, melancholic treatise on emotional disappointment. “You only ever touch me in the dark, only if we're drinking, can you see my spark” she sings, exquisitely. "Trying to tell yourself a lover is right for you when you know he is nothing but."
'Homewrecker': Spoken-word ice-queen theatrics befitting the Pet Shop Boys, featuring the line: “Girls and their cars and their gourmet vomit.” "It's about the power of an image: Looking sweet whilst secretly being a total bitch and getting away with it!"
'Starring Role': Ethereal, fragile rumination on living outside reality. “And you don't want to live in reality. That's why you're an artist. You're on the run.”
'The State Of Dreaming': 'Hounds Of Love'-era Kate Bush and a contemplation of the famous Marilyn Monroe quote: “I just want to be wonderful.” "Fantasy protects us"
'Power And Control': Cinematic, Teutonic, Depeche Mode/Killers-sized electro colossus, written and recorded at dawn on ferry to Finland. “About the tactics of power-games in love”
'Living Dead': Pummeling synth-pop paean to regret. “The feeling that you have not lived your life to the full.”
'Teen Idle': "Story of my suicidal cheerleader youth! This song was like my last hurrah of adolescence"
'Valley Of The Dolls': Brooding, elegant, gothic search through loss of identity. “About emptiness, a void that you can't fill with relationships.”
'Hypocrates': Breezy, beautiful, guitar-pop melodies, perhaps Gwen Stefani fronting Crowded House. “Saying 'let me be who I am'.”
'Fear And Loathing': Epic, Trent Reznor-esque, doom-pop reverie on multiple inner personalities. “About seeing the good in people, making a fresh start and cutting yourself free of old ideals”