Review: Marina and the Diamonds – Electra Heart

In 2010 we chose the debut album by Marina Diamandis as among the 10 best electronic albums of that year. It deserved to be there in spades – quirky and unusual but also very chart-aware, it was a fun example of how well a truly talented and ambitious musician could take electronic music and make it appetizing to the masses.

A couple of years on we get her second album and it’s in some ways more of the same, and in others an even fuller realization of the chart-nip she clearly desires.

One characteristic that defines the best of her music is her distinctive, lovely, powerful and ever-dramatic voice. One thing we realize when listening to Electra Heart is how much she actually sounds like Katy Perry. It comes out because to a staggering degree the music has coagulated as a kind of Perry mish-mash and this doesn’t necessary do Diamandis any favours. 

At first listen, in fact, this listener was horrified. Early clips wrenched her sound so far from the shallow roots she planted so recently on The Family Jewels, it was jarring. That fine line between the more chart friendly wing of electronic music and the cynical producer-driven dirge-pop for which Perry is the poster child, is a hard one to walk and on The Family Jewels we heard a clever, sparkly version of the former; on this album we heard a few too many times, a jag to the latter. “Power and Control”, or “Hypocrates”, solid pop songs that could find themselves in the song book of any number of chart princesses feel flatter than one expects from a talented performer like Diamandis. “Primadonna” and “Bubblegum Bitch” are soulless ditties that if you close your eyes you’d swear were coming from the calculating mouth of Ms. Perry.

However, one can’t write off someone with this lady’s chops altogether. Burrow deep and one hears the often-brilliant synth trills and buzzes that encircle many of these songs. And chart bait or not one can’t help but listen to the best of the treasures on this album and not be impressed but her songwriting prowess. “Staring Role” is clever, beautifully sung and feels like it could have been on the previous album; “Power and Control” is a thudding, strong anthemic electro powerhouse; “Teen Idol” is a gorgeous power ballad with smart, sad lyrics; “Valley of the Dolls” is simply lovely lyrically and musically, and perhaps the real highlight of the album.

Does this album sometimes veer too closely to the dark side? Yes, without question. But the artist who so caught our attention and passion a couple of years gone now is still front and centre on Electra Heart and as a whole the album gets a thumbs up from Softsynth. The bulk of it is on regular rotation on the Softsynth playlist and she remains a captivating artist who’s hard to look way from (not the least of which, thanks to the lovely cover art that features her sporting a new and beautiful look). One hopes she sees the commercial success she craves and deserves. If it ensures a long career where she can churn out the best parts of an album  like this one so be it, Perry’ed up from time to time, or not…

Watch: Primadonna


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