Universal Music New Zealand Limited
It’s in no way a terrible album - Lorde’s debut full-lengther leaves that EP in the dust, where it belongs (you may remember I wasn’t such a fan of it, nor the hype surrounding/engulfing). But fuck the hype, let’s look at the music this time right? Sure, there’s a niggling annoyance for me that almost every song references Lorde’s age – meaning this “only 16” thing gets to get carried on, used as both praise and a defence, either it’s extraordinary that she wrote what she wrote when she was this age or it’s a sign that there’s (even) more to come, given she’s only the age she is right now.
I’m not saying she’s cleverly manipulated her audience of won’t-hear-a-bad-worders, strangely split between 16 year old girls and 50 year old men it seems. But it’s convenient. Similarly the album surely seems to be wanting to exempt itself from criticism by beginning with the line, “Don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk?” and ending, a trim 38-minutes/10 songs later, with the song A World Alone which features a “let ‘em talk” passive-aggressive kiss-off.
Tennis Court opens and it’s a standout, along with Royals (carried over from the EP) and Team. These songs, spaced to carry a couple of nearly-filler tunes between them, will see you two thirds of the way through the album; an album that takes the vapidity of The Naked & Famous and hopes to dazzle and distract because these are the (naked) thoughts of a (famous) 16 year old.
And these thoughts have been praised, her lyrics; she’s attracted a lot of talk (and, well, let em’ talk!) about her lyrics; that would be lyrics like “I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh” and “I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air/So there” and, though she’s (presumably) writing what she knows (not usually a bad thing) there’s a lot of churched-up ennui here; a lot of entitlement-boredom. Never has the sound of nothing-to-say-about-anything-much seemed so monotonous, the opening and closing songs with palinode lines suggesting not so much a song-cycle but a circle of songs that play out, musically, along a straight line. And then to flatline. That the musical premise is so flimsy is what makes it so pliable as to eventually bend back around on itself.
But 38 minutes is a long time to be spent listening to one song.
There’s space – loads of space across this album, shade-cloth pop that, depending on how you look at it, highlights the words or exposes the lack of anything meaningful melodically; the album is not so much a dearth of ideas as it is the birth – and then slow, sometimes monotonous, death of that same single idea.
White Teeth Teens has an almost stroppy march to it, petulant programmed percussion arriving to supply if not a jolt then some jaunt; perhaps a wake-up if you nodded off after seven songs that alternate between Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover being rewritten to appeal to Twilight fans and that elegantly bored/dutifully detached Lana Del Rey thing.
I’ll say again this is better than Lana Del Rey, but it does take its cue from her.
The biggest crime here is that producer/musician/co-writer Joel Little has created the musical textures around what feels (and sounds) like a free-demo synth-pad upgrade. Every song sounds so close to being the same that it might as well be. And where you might be told elsewhere that it plays out as if some sonic movie, I just hear an overall effect of talking-about-being-bored made to sound so very boring. Why, it’s almost meta.
But in fact there’s a very two dimensional sound to this music across a whole album. And that’s because there are only two dimensions to this music-as-product: the poetry of a long-haired 16 year old and the fact that a Kiwi is being taken seriously on the international pop charts. The same people that would never normally care if a song troubled the pop charts – because the pop charts are sorta somehow beneath them, usually – are gushing about this as if it’s some Trojan horse of pop; actually it’s more a frozen farce.
Because for all their bored-teen talk Lorde’s songs seem to want to position themselves above the culture they’re looking down on, when actually they’re playing right alongside/playing into, playing along. They aren’t actually mocking the culture, nor critiquing it. They are part of that culture. They are celebrating it. Continuing it. That would be no bad thing, but the loftiness that has been attached – again it does come back to the age, it has to, because everyone: the artist, the fans, the label, the media has wanted this to come back to the age thing right from the start – is delivered in a strange not-cut-to-fit tone. This is just a pop album, a mostly okay, if a little dull (but made to sound dull, intentionally – I would guess) pop album. And if it was made by anyone else that was not a Kiwi, or by a 300-pounder, some dude, some nobody, some non-schoolgirl, the majority of us celebrating it would not give a fuck, could not give a fuck and of course should not give a fuck.
But this is the debut album by Lorde, already a star on the world stage we’ve been told and, to some degree, seen. So this album will sell itself. And the people who buy it will make their own conclusions of course.
I couldn’t hate this. But the album tracks offer so very little in support to the singles. And I’m convinced that Lorde can’t be calling all the shots as people suggest – otherwise she’d have found someone better to work with, someone more sonically adventurous than Joel Little, someone capable of creating something more sonically rewarding than the daft pun that is Pure Heroine.
At least Joel Little’s previous cynical attempts to capture a teen-pop zeitgeist as part of the wretched Goodnight Nurse and then with the wrecked-for-the-weekends Kids of 88 mean he’ll have some bury-your-head advice for Lorde if it does ever end up going pear-shaped; if the magical carpet ride that is apparently guaranteed gets called in early.
Still, she’s only sixteen fer chrissakes!
And I’m not the target market for this album. So my opinion here is irrelevant – it can’t mean anything. You know, unless of course I liked it. That’s when a middle-aged man can comment on young-person’s pop. When they like it.