Heartbreak and grief is sewn into the fabric of Melodrama; it permeates the bones of the record. It’s also a record about the partying and hedonism that often accompany the late teenage years and early twenties, but the two themes are inseparably intertwined in this case.
Melodrama, Lorde’s sophomore album, is an ode to the emotions – the high, overwhelming, erupting emotions – that a girl of her age goes through. Lorde masterfully encapsulates the minutiae that feel like the end of the world, perhaps best exemplified by ‘The Louvre’ – “I overthink your punctuation use / Not my fault, just a thing that my mind do”.
The heartbreak that engulfs Melodrama is perhaps most particularly evident from ‘Writer In The Dark’, with a grieving chorus of ‘I am my mother’s child / I’ll love you till my breathing stops / I’ll love you till you call the cops on me” set to a symphony of violins. That’s not to describe the record as all anguish and sorrow; it’s also somewhat epicurean, tinted with fervour and optimism. ‘Green Light’ is a burst of alacrity for the future (with some questionable conspiracy theories about it being a response to Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’), and ‘Homemade Dynamite’ talks about the excitement of meeting someone new at a house party.
Lorde has paid attention to every single last detail on Melodrama, from her almost comical explosion noise on ‘Homemade Dynamite’ after gently singing “now you know it’s really gonna blow”, to the pre-chorus fake gun-cocking noise in ‘Perfect Places’. The record sounds different to anything else, with Lorde herself tweeting about ‘Sober’ “this song was so important to me because it felt like pop music I hadn’t heard before, this sprawling bass & strange vocal syncopation”. Melodrama is pop music; however – and this isn’t meant as a criticism of pop (because that’s so old now) – it’s not perfectly calibrated and crafted for chart success like so much pop music is. Instead, it’s strange, it’s unexpected and it’s remarkable. Sonically it’s less minimalistic than her debut Pure Heroine, split half and half into quieter, brooding tracks (think ‘Sober II (Melodrama)’ or ‘Liability’/’Liability (Reprise)’) and those radiating exuberance like ‘Supercut’ and ‘Green Light’.
You don’t have to listen to Melodrama multiple times to understand what it’s about. It isn’t swathed in metaphor; instead it’s exposed, it’s raw and it’s honest. Melodrama is lyrically simple, whilst at the same time being complex enough to make you sit and contemplate it. ‘Liability’ is exemplar of this, a gentle, piano-driven track (a departure from her previous work), where Lorde self-describes herself as literally a liability to those that she loves. Lorde’s lyrics can often sound like a stream of consciousness, for example in ‘The Louvre’, she sings “But we’re the greatest / They’ll hang us in the Louvre” and in the next line trails off into “Down the back / But who cares? – still the Louvre”. This openness and literality is part of her music’s allure.
‘Perfect Places’, the ebullient closing track and my personal highlight, is about partying and searching for happiness – or as she lyrically terms it, a “perfect place” – but a failure to do so, with an outro repeating “all the nights spent off our faces / trying to find these perfect places / what the fuck are perfect places anyway?”. At the very end of the song, music comes to an abrupt stop and Lorde gently speaks this refrain, tenderly closing Melodrama. Upon the single’s release, Lorde herself wrote of her inspiration for ‘Perfect Places’, saying “All last summer, I couldn’t shake the feeling that everyone I knew or saw was searching for something – trying to transcend the news and the screaming pavements”. The lyrics also a pack a small homage to the late David Bowie and Prince, with the line “all of our heroes fading”.
It’s self-aware; it knows that these things won’t matter in thirty years time; Lorde knows she’s being melodramatic – on ‘Sober II (Melodrama)’, she even sings “we told you this was melodrama”. Within this song, you can feel a sense of frustration at it all – “The terror and the horror / God, I wonder why we bother / All the glamour and the trauma and the fuckin’ melodrama”. Melodrama is a chimera of sadness and sybaritism, expertly crafted to entangle the two.
Melodrama is as though Lorde vomited all her emotions onto a canvas and it came out as a perfectly articulated masterpiece. Lorde can capture her feelings and transform them into a lyrical and sonic gem like nobody else quite can.By Lucy McLaughlin