Her strengths in creating spacious, slow atmospheres mostly outweighed her weaknesses within a more contemporary pop sound, but while showing personality the overall interest level was not where it should have been given Lorde’s popularity.
Lorde shows an obvious strength and an obvious weakness in her melodic writing on this album. The strength is creating a line within a very empty, spacious, and slow atmosphere. When background layers were diminished and it was up to the melody to take presence and give direction, it did just that. On top of that, when the music had less clutter and opened up to the solo voice, Lorde found great melodic shapes that sounded free from any potential outside constraint. The two best examples of this on the album are the songs “Liability” and “Writer In the Dark”. In comparing that to her more intricate and involved music, we find Lorde’s melodic weakness on this album. She didn’t do so well finding intrigue in her lines when they had to keep up with a faster pace and denser textures. In these instances, the melodies became a bit too trite and overly sedated, sounding much like generic modern pop with no real thought to them. This happened in songs like “Homemade Dynamite” and “Supercut”. This struggle between her strengths and weaknesses didn’t necessarily spoil my experience as a listener, since if anything it showed a willingness to experiment and an attempt to find true success at something. Melody was indeed the element that did the most heavy lifting and gave the most nourishment. The shortcomings within the modern pop atmospheres were unfortunate, but the melodies still had great presence and memorable passages. In that way, the sometimes plain and uninteresting lines were overcome to a degree. Overall, the simpler the better here, but I did also enjoy the diversity in techniques.
The song “Green Light” started off the album with a bang in the awesome harmonic transition to the I bVII IV passage. It got me excited, but sadly no other song on the album contained any great transition points or noteworthy progressions like that. In fact, all it really became after that was three or four chord loops. Uninteresting chords was Lorde’s biggest downfall in the entire work. It was disappointing to hear a musician with detectable passion and ability to settle so often on the collection of the I, IV, V, and vi chords. Even when a new chord was introduced to the loop, like ii or iii, it didn’t really make a difference since rhythm and chord placements within phrases didn’t change enough. While using these run down progressions, true musicianship is shown within the actual movement of the harmonic layers and how the chords themselves are presented. There’s no plopping root chords down on a piano or guitar for two beats; the structures are lively and stayed in tact in a rather interesting way. From arpeggiations to small color tones to full out countermelodies, the harmony did well to decorate its weak skeleton. The songs that did this most obviously were “The Louvre” and “Hard Feelings”. Despite the many noticeable musical improvements that can be made, Lorde did a nice job throughout the work to give the personality and audacity needed to fill the holes. Should that really be so admirable, though? I’m not terribly convinced.
The successes and deficiencies within the sound truly sum up the worth of the album. Like the other elements, the timbre has a clear dichotomy of what worked and what didn’t. In general, the many different synthetic instrumental additions were interesting at best and showed real ambition, but they were never truly convincing. The vigorous and energetic sound never really worked in a single direction, sounding quite distant and random at times. I couldn’t understand the purpose of the many vocal manipulations, which sounded quite annoying when persistent and didn’t add anything positive. I was also not a huge fan of how the textures shifted when signaling new sections, taking away what seemed to be the anchor and leaving in unimportant synthetic noise. With that, it is no coincidence that the two songs with the best melodies, “Liability” and “Writer in the Dark”, also had the most effective timbres. As exemplified by this work, it’s obvious that Lorde succeeds better all around with smaller, simpler atmospheres. By no means was the piano usage anything incredible, but its prominence was welcomed in those songs due to its grounded and familiar nature, where the music ultimately thrived. The overall ambition and sufficient level of attraction in the sound did outweigh the experimental shortcomings. The end result turns out to be rather pleasing, but there’s plenty of other music out there with these same traits along with much more conviction.
So, what’s the big deal? That’s the question I asked myself both before and after listening to this album. If someone else could try to explain to me what they think I’m missing out on, that’d be great. There was nothing musically fascinating enough to pinpoint and claim brilliance with. Is it her age? She’s young, and that’s understandably exciting for some people. That shouldn’t be able to carry her entire image, though. Is it the lyrics? They just didn’t reach me on a meaningful level at all, but I won’t discredit that as an important facet of the work. If the lyrics really are this much of the artistic and influential drive of the work, why not just turn to poetry? Sure, these songs are mostly pleasant, and some had very beautiful moments, but this album really showed nothing more than an average successful songwriter that’s still developing a unique voice. For extremely passionate music lovers, this is really not that interesting of a listen. I am baffled by the extreme amount of attention she gets, but I get the sense that she’s strong-willed enough to keep honing her skills and not focus so much on her popularity. She has potential, and this didn’t seem to be quite there yet. I could be the only one who thinks that, though.
Final Score: 129/180