“Dear Diary, we fell apart //
Welcome to the life of Electra Heart”
So returns Marina and the Diamonds – in a haunting, adult form. Electra Heart is a character story: the titular character at once a heartless temptress and also desperate for love and fame, the album a thematic questioning of the dream Electra chases.
There are still the same Marina elements – her deep mellifluous voice liberally peppered with electronic effects, the love of synths, the obsession with obsession itself, and fame… This time, however, they’re employed in a more mature sense. The time spent travelling, performing and ruminating (and the help of a good producer or thirteen) has given her that breathing space to develop a great sophomore album.
Diamandis switches between several viewpoints – a vicious, catty, seductive and ultimately vapid temptress ( Bubblegum Bitch, Primadonna ); a more pleading character ( Lies, State of Dreaming, Valley of the Dolls, Hypocrates ); and a clearer, sanguine voice ( Starring Role, Fear and Loathing ). This is best expressed in those tracks where they’re all at play – such as Teen Idle where soaring, vicious legato in the verse play against the über-catchy ‘super-super-super-suicidal’ chorus. Tracks like these get to the essence of Electra: that catch-22 of being smart enough to know you can’t get satisfaction from being judged on looks alone but still craving the superficial adoration of celebrity nonetheless.
When I first listened to her debut album, I was struck by the mishmash of influences leading to an off-kilter album structure. The same impulse is at play here, but this time employed to impressive effect. Funneled through the story of Electra, a structure is allowed to form and give a sense of progression, from the angry teen anthem of Bubblegum Bitch through the plaintive Living Dead and on to the cathartic Fear and Loathing.
This focus is audible in technical aspects, too: Primadonna feels like Diamandis has finally worked out how to employ the spoken not-quite-rap-singing technique that was so awkward in I am not a Robot.
Still, there are the blatant references: Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Susann. There are also nods – such as the glimpses of S Club 7’s Tragedy in the intro to Power & Control or Soft Cell in State of Dreaming. Usually, though, the citations are layered so thick and fast, that it’s hard to place them – like in Buy the Stars, where they build a tapestry, the combination something unique and precious.
The deluxe edition comes with four additional tracks, including the earworm Radioactive, whose staccato chords can get caught in your head for days. When I started writing this review, I originally started to bemoan the exclusion of Radioactive in the regular album version – but having listened to it a few times now, it makes sense. These are more a bridge to Family Jewels – Sex Yeah could have been an off cut and the “January through December” in Lonely Hearts Club has had relations with Obsessions – with Buy the Stars that crossover to Fear and Loathing.
This is the sort of album that grows on you with every listen. It’s cleverly made without being too clever, well thought and spaced out, and there’s a sense of thoughtfulness behind it that doesn’t lose the playfulness. For all the semi-serious posturing, I think Marina might be coming into her own.