It’s been four years since the release of Lorde’s debut album, Pure Heroine. A long time, some might say, especially for someone so young, but one listen to Melodrama is enough to realise that this time and space was necessary in order for this album to bloom in the way that it has. In the words of Lorde herself, “it takes some time to map the inside of a brain.”
During these four years Ella Yelich-O’Connor has grown up, for one thing. Or perhaps “growing”, the continuous tense, is a better choice of verb. If Pure Heroine was teenage claustrophobia, Melodrama is the wide, open spaces of young adulthood, horrible and euphoric in equal measure. Most songs about adolescence are written in retrospect, but Lorde is still only twenty, which gives her music a sense of urgency, of the here and now.
It’s a record that requires multiple listens in order to fully appreciate it, for Melodrama is an album of “growers”, of sudden realisations that Oh This Is Actually Really Quite Good after the second or third time you hear a song. These are not radio-friendly hits; there are not many catchy hooks or generic choruses that get stuck in your head with the sheer force of their familiarity. “when i was a kid i thought big records had to be made a certain way—to be sterile & calculated in craft; that something had to be sacrificed,” Lorde tweeted after the album reached number one in America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. “i have had the divine thrill of disproving that firsthand, twice over.” And disprove it she has. These are the best type of pop songs, capturing universal feelings but in a way that is so far from generic.
The album opens with ‘Green Light’, a soaring anthem of heartbreak reminiscent of Robyn, the queen of melancholy bops. There’s euphoria in its piano riff, carefree to a point of near desperation, but there’s still an underlying anger. This is a break-up song, and the wounds are still raw. The continuous tense is relevant again here: “I’m waiting for it, that green light, I want it.”
On a completely different note is ‘Liability’, quiet and sad; words muttered softly to yourself in the bathroom of a party or as you stumble home in the dark. “I’m a little much for everyone,” she hums, almost matter of fact. Indeed, Lorde has said that Melodrama is set at a house party, a concept album in a loose sense of the word. Listening to it brings to mind one that takes place on a summer night; hot, humid, and fraught with nervous energy. “Summer slipped us underneath her tongue / our days and nights are perfumed with obsession,” is the opening line of ‘The Louvre’, one of my personal favourites on the album.
Second single ‘Perfect Places’ encapsulates the high stakes adolescence in the album’s title; “every night I live and die,” Lorde sings. “I hate the headlines and the weather / I’m nineteen and I’m on fire.” Meanwhile ‘Hard Feelings’ is permeated with meandering instrumentals, culminating in ‘Writer in the Dark’, which sweeps you up into big, all-encompassing emotions. That’s what I love most about this album – the pure unadulterated, unapologetic emotion. There is no irony, no playing it cool. It takes time to map the inside of a brain, but Lorde has mapped it well.