Lorde is 16 years old and from New Zealand, and you and I know this because every single fucking music critic made sure to tell you that fact the way a vegan lets you know about their life choices:
- Pitchfork‘s Lindsay Zoladz: “… in which the 16 year-old New Zealand singer-songwriter …”
- Popmatter‘s Evan Sawdey: “… the 16-year-old artist named Lorde, a New Zealand songstress …”
- Rolling Stone‘s Jon Dolan: “… Ella Yelich-O’Connor is 16 […] She’s from New Zealand …”
I bring this up only because if Lorde wasn’t an unlikely success story because of her age (it is impressive, to be sure) and origins (if it weren’t for Lord of the Rings, no one would know about New Zealand’s existence), then she wouldn’t be an unlikely success story; in other words, this album kind of sucks.
Firstly, the lyrics suck. Normally, this isn’t a big issue because she is 16, whom people don’t normally go to for poignant truths about the world and this is a pop album, which people don’t normally go to for poignant truths about the world. But, unfortunately, here, this is a big issue because her voice is mixed really loudly and there isn’t anything happening musically to distract from those lyrics. Yeah, I’ll defend the ones in “Royals” because I think it’s neat-o that a defiantly anti-pop song managed to top the pop charts (“But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom” – take that, Miley Cyrus! and “We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair” – take that, Taylor Swift!). Also: the people who accused her of racism made even less sense than the misandrists misquoting (a no-no) Robin Thicke and taking them out of context (another no-no) to accuse him of being a rapist, and these people were being both a) stupid and b) racist themselves. But the problem with Pure Heroine as a whole is that Lorde has nothing to say except:
- The town she’s from sucks (“I’m not proud of my address, in the torn up town”; “We live in cities you’ll never see on-screen / Not very pretty but we sure know how to run things”);
- She is disillusioned with high society, which she did not have access to a year ago because the town she’s from sucks (the aforementioned lyrics from “Royals”; “I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air / So there”);
- She has a teeth fetish (“I cut my teeth on wedding rings”; “A hundred jewels between teeth”; “Dreams of clean teeth”; the entirety of “White Teeth Teens”). Yes, I know it’s a metaphor, but the question is: what is a metaphor of? Oh, high society kids have access to white/clean teeth, and she wants that, but can’t have it because the town she’s from sucks? Yawn.
More importantly, there isn’t anything happening in the music; for a pop album, there’s a horrifying lack of melodies. Let’s get real here: each of these songs go for the minimal maximalist, mid-tempo shtick which means that you’re not going to find any good – let alone original – melodies in the instrumentals (also: because of it, all of these songs sound the same). So as pop music directs, we look to the singer instead. But problem: Lorde, who has a vocal range of about two notes, can’t deliver any either. At least Lana Del Rey, who always gets dragged into comparison, launched in falsetto every now and then, sometimes admirably and sometimes awkwardly, but at least she tried. “Royals” managed to side-step this by having her speak more than sing, and the chorus manages to transcend any other song here through the employ of a well-placed and well-executed harmonic climb. “Team” has the best melody here, but that one just has her sliding up a tone before sliding down a tone during the hook, and if you think that’s some sort of amazing trick, I’m scared to know what would happen to your brain if you heard Jeff Buckley’s Grace or something. In other words, because she’s bored with pop music, she makes ironically boring music and I’m bored as a result.
Other stuff that’s worth noting: Lorde’s fascination with pitch shifting backing vocals clutters otherwise okay songs like “Tennis Court” and “Glory and Gore.” Meanwhile, “Still Sane” could cure insomnia, it sucks so much. And even though “Royals” and “Team” are the best songs on the album, they’re not without their problems: “Royals” has a bridge that sounds like Lorde knew she needed one, and took the opening measures of “F**kin’ Problems” by A$AP Rocky – who she loves dearly – and threw it in the song; “Team” has this frankly disgusting squishy synth drum used throughout and an intro that could have or should have been worked into the proper song but is just there instead with no added value.
A couple of closing notes that don’t fit anywhere else in the review:
- Her hair is rather fantastic.
- The album title’s double entendre is boring, boring, boring.
- The Replacements are a good band who a lot of people don’t know about, and I guess I’m happy she’s covering them so they’ll get a little more interest for their reunion tours.
- She also covers James Blake’s “Retrograde” live. It is the most painful 5 minutes you’ll ever endure.