Marina and the Diamonds (Ft. Electra Heart)
Posted: Wed Sep 12, 2018 6:41 pm
While I wouldn't say that 2015's Froot, by Marina and the Diamonds, is a better album than her 2010 debut The Family Jewels, it is the album I listen to more frequently, and it's often in my thoughts these days.
It's largely an album about a woman who has struggled with depression and perpetually been undervalued, as an artist and in life, saying she knows her own worth.
She wants to say she's in a happier, more fulfilled place now, even if that knowledge came at great cost. Nestled in the middle of the album, "Gold" and "Solitaire" feel like statements of self-esteem gained after a full nervous breakdown. "Blue" says that outright, even as it pretends to be a simple, brainless pop tune. The result is very moving.
"Family Jewels" had quirky tracks like "Mowgli's Road," which was largely about whether Marina wanted to be a mainstream pop artist or do something more unique and even bizarre. The subtext of the album was about her struggles with depression and her desire to be the biggest pop star in the world. But she never had the career of Lady Gaga or Katy Perry or Taylor Swift. Perhaps because Marina's album was actually as weird as Lady Gaga was pretending to be.
Her 2013 album Electra Heart took that further, as she genuinely tried to sell out by producing blander pop music with mainstream producers, in the character of toxic, doomed, suicidal pop princess Electra Heart. She actually lost creative control at times, and some of the tracks just aren't interesting. But for a sellout piece it's an incredibly dark and moody album at heart, focusing in on what it would really mean to be an enormously successful pop star, if she sold her soul (and gave up her body and life) to do so. For Marina, becoming an iconic pop princess seems to involve becoming a negative stereotype of a woman then killing herself in slow motion, a la Marilyn Monroe. You might rightly infer from this that there are reasons why she never became quite that famous.
"Froot" finds her in a much healthier place, judging from the tracks anyway. It's more mainstream-friendly than Family Jewels was, but it also feels much more personal, like she's not playing a character anymore. There aren't obvious sellout tracks. Compared to the quirky "The Family Jewels," "Froot" tends to eschew subtext and is often childishly blunt, as if she's tired of being misunderstood. She just comes out and says what the songs are about.
"Underneath it all, we're just savages." "I don't want to feel blue anymore." In "Can't Pin Me Down," she spends a song saying outright that she's not going to do what's expected of her as an artist. "Mowgli's Road" made the point a thousand times better by actually doing the unexpected. Her dark and quirky side is now the subtext. The great title track "Froot" is openly about sex. To quote Garth Marenghi, "I know writers you use subtext and they're all cowards." But it's still a uniquely Marina take on sex, pitched very low and also very high, above Marina's natural range, and sounding like a witch's spell, an invocation to something very strange and darkly magical. The Youtube video of "Froot" actually omits the two bridges which make this much clearer, such as:
"I'm your carnal flower, I'm your bloody rose
Pick my petals off and make my heart explode
I'm your deadly nightshade, I'm your cherry tree
You're my one true love, I'm your destiny"
Well, if you're going to write about sex, why not treat sex as sacred? This isn't the plastic world of Katy Perry. It's curious and telling that this gets cut out in the video, as the bridges are like Marina's signature embedded in what could otherwise be mistaken for mainstream pop. Marina always has a unique voice in her work which makes it hard for her to just cash in and sell out. I'd like to hear an album from her which is weirder, but at least 2/3rds of "Froot," as an album, is brilliant and holds up to repeated listens.