"Maybe I was ready to change. Maybe I was ready to leave a lot of things I'd held onto in the past behind."
Marina and the Diamonds' ‘FROOT’ is not only her best album yet, it's an effort which is going to be nearly impossible for any pop artist this year to top.
Even for Marina and the Diamonds (born Marina Lambrini Diamandis), one of the most exciting and promising artists in the industry, following the dizzying heights of her outstanding debut ‘The Family Jewels’ and commercial breakthrough ‘Electra Heart’ was never going to be an easy task. Characterized by Diamandis' quick wit and unique voice, her initial offerings had seemingly different focuses and styles: Marina's first album was an exploration of herself and her second was an exercise in character acting, taking on the persona of the vacuous and shallow titular character, Electra Heart.
Whilst ‘The Family Jewels’ was a pop endeavour, it showed decided indie leanings, and whilst 'Electra Heart' didn't compromise on lyrical integrity, it saw Marina paired with Hot 100 frequenters like Dr. Luke and StarGate. The question that inevitably followed the news of Marina's third LP therefore, was which direction would she take this time?
Interestingly and fundamentally, ‘FROOT’ sounds like nothing the Welsh/Greek singer-songwriter has attempted before and yet it’s so steeped in Marina's signature style, it couldn’t possibly be by anyone else.
Although every track is written and composed solely by Marina and produced alongside Greg Kurstin, each song has an individual and solidly defined identity. Arguably none more so than title track, "Froot".
Sonically, "Froot" is objectively outstanding and easily Marina’s strongest singular offering since her first record. Purring suggestively over the disco-inspired synth-pop track, Marina pulls off an uncharacteristically sultry vocal with ease and finesse. Laden with clever lyrical ticks and Tumblr-isms galore, Diamandis proves that she understands her audience at least as well as pop goliaths like Taylor Swift. The song is burst of fresh water in the stagnant pop-pond of 2015, but how does the rest of the album shape up in comparison?
Frankly, very well.
The most notable difference between ‘FROOT’ and Marina’s first two studio efforts is an infrequent positivity which is in stark contrast to often disillusioned discography (think ‘Electra Heart’ deep cut “Teen Idle”). No track better exemplifies Marina's new attitude than bold opening number, “Happy”. A simple, gorgeous track, it’s an immediate highlight from the record – backed only by a piano and gentle percussion, “Happy” is a song which lets the lyrics and melodies shine on their own merits.
In fact, as a whole, ‘FROOT’ benefits from Greg Kurstin’s ability to let the songs speak for themselves and shies away from the pop trend of drowning songs in production – one of the consistent downsides of even the best albums from the last decade. Although tracks like “Solitaire”, which harks back to the melancholy of Marina’s earlier work, feature vocal effects, everything is so understated that the listener has no choice but to focus on Diamandis’ writing, rather than any diverting production.
One of Marina’s lyrical strengths is undoubtedly her talent for a well-chosen metaphor. Acoustic cut “Weeds” likens an ex-lover to a weed she thought she’d cut off “at the root” – a decidedly fresh take on a toxic relationship, a topic often discussed in pop music but seemingly always in the same way. Marina has a talent for reimagining old ideas that almost none of her pop contemporaries can boast.
It’s also exciting to see the "Power and Control" hitmaker exploring new musical genres as well as broadening her lyrical horizons. After experimenting with a touch of funk and disco on the titular track, moments like the bitter, deliciously pressed “Better Than That” and the intensely political, fiercely opinionated “Savages” play with a rockier sound than Marina’s dabbled in before.
Certainly, both tracks have deliberate pop elements and memorable lyrics – “I’m not afraid of God, I’m afraid of man” stands out on “Savages” and the middle-8 of “Better Than That” is all kinds of brilliant (“I’m not passing judgment on her sexual life, I’m passing judgment on the way she always stuck her knife in the back”). However, the most notable aspect of the songs is their leanings towards classic rock and their funk based backbones.
Similarly, album highlight “Can’t Pin Me Down” is doused in rock references, from the vocal effects to the subversive lyrics and confronting subject matter (“Do you really want me to write a feminist anthem?”). Interestingly, despite being one of the most rock-influenced efforts on ‘FROOT’, there’s a subtle nod to pop royalty in the lyrics: “I could be your sister, I could be your mother / I could be your neighbor, I could be your lover”, which appears to make reference to Madonna’s “I’d Rather be Your Lover” – a deep cut from 1994’s ‘Bedtime Stories’.
Ultimately, no matter its influences “Can’t Pin Me Down” one of the tracks that makes the most impact. It’s catchy, striking and swimming with Marina’s insightful charm.
As well as hints of rock, there are plenty of examples of Marina staying truer to her roots and these are often equally tasty pieces of froot.
On “Blue”, the light, bubblegum-tinged track is the epitome of pop. With a hook her contemporaries would kill for, “Blue” has the most immediate promise of a radio hit, although it doesn’t feel like that’s something Marina’s particularly looking for. The rich instrumental rests on a classically pop beat and showcases sugary melodies with bright, airy strings that feel simultaneously current and nostalgic.
However, once again it’s the lyrics that steal the show. Offering a fresh take on the conventional break-up anthem, Marina admits to being selfish and only wanting to rekindle an affair with an ex- to boost her self-esteem. No one is as self-aware or as self-deprecating as the Welsh/Greek songstress and it’s as refreshing as it is entertaining.
It’s honestly hard to tell which songs are intended to be treated as singles from ‘FROOT’, with Marina’s ‘Froot of the Month’ campaign releasing tracks as pre-order gratuities and individual downloads. Although it doesn't seem particularly important to an appreciation of the album as a whole, most recent ‘Froot of the Month’, “Forget”, feels like a hit in the making and will undoubtedly go on to be a staple of Diamandis’ live shows.
Featuring a more upbeat instrumental and firmly cementing Marina's new lyrical direction, “Forget” is an undeniable highlight. The middle-8 is one of the strongest melodic moments on ‘FROOT’ and the starlet's pronunciation of “tortoise” is unintentionally hilarious.
In the same way as “Forget” instantly feels like a classic Marina track, “I’m a Ruin” with its pop-tastic post-chorus “yeah-eah”-s, soaring vocals and incisive lyrics is a memorable moment on the record. Yet again, the melodic, doo-wop pop sound is in constant juxtaposition to Marina’s revealing lyrical style – which on this track will undoubtedly hit home with the listener in a profoundly uncomfortable way. The entirety of ‘FROOT’ is characterized by lyricism which is clearly deeply personal, yet somehow entirely relatable.
All things considered, it might be closing track “Immortal” on which Marina shines the brightest. It’s a nod to the best parts of ‘Electra Heart’, lyrically reminiscent of “Fear and Loathing” and melodically similar to “Teen Idle”, but with a far more existential focus. A contemplation of life’s transience with unnervingly direct lyrics, Marina is at her most triumphant when she’s talking about the bigger picture.
Incidentally, running in at twelve songs ‘FROOT’ as a whole benefits from Marina’s understanding of brevity. Too many albums now rely on bloated track-lists and unnecessary deluxe editions, so it’s refreshing to see such a tight and concise effort.
The Caribbean-tinged “Gold” sees Diamandis softly reminding us, “Don’t think I want what I used to want / Don’t think I need what I used to need” and ultimately, this couldn’t be a truer representation of the record at large. ‘FROOT’ sees a Marina who isn’t tethered to a specific genre, who doesn’t care about chart success and who finally feels like a creator free from artistic limitation.
Any act hoping to bag the best album of the 2015 will have their work cut out for them: ‘FROOT’ is an unparalleled triumph for Marina and the Diamonds, her finest effort yet and one of the best pop records in recent memory.
Hit: “Froot”, “Happy”, “Can’t Pin Me Down”, “Blue”, “Forget” and “Immortal”