Album Review: Marina And The Diamonds

electra heart (atlantic / 679 recordings)

Marina Diamondis' follow-up to 2010's debut, The Family Jewels, is a semi-concept album which tells the story of female identity through throbbing Electro-Pop beats and assertive vocals. But are big co-writers and producers enough to set Electra Heart apart form the drivel?

Although a classic cliche, this really is the 'difficult second album' for Marina And The Diamonds. Having already announced a radical change of direction earlier last year, anticipation was high for Electra Heart when Marina described it as "the antithesis of everything I've done so far".

So what makes Electra Heart so different from The Family Jewels? Well, aside from sticking with debut record co-writer Liam Howe, Marina was also put to work with some of the biggest writers and producers in the Pop world - Dr. Luke (Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry) and Diplo (Beyonce, Usher), who are responsible for a liberal coating of super high-gloss bubblegum Pop - lead single, Primadonna, being a prime example.

Marina attacks the album using an array of intriguing character types and guises including Bubblegum Bitch, Teen Idol, Homewrecker and Primadonna and through various personas and mannerisms, she draws the listener into the world of Electra Heart. The songs, however, don't steer too far from The Family Jewels, still emphasising Marina's quirky approach to Pop song-writing, and sees her vocals beautifully refined.

Exploding into action is album opener, Bubblegum Bitch; the epitome of Pop, the track contains rhyming lines, "I'll chew you up and spit you out, 'cos that's what young love is all about", simple synth chord progressions, a big chorus and repetitive sonic and lyrical soundbites. Everything you'd expect in a Pop record.

Marina's distinctive vocals are one of the album's real stand out features - her rich tone and deep voice commanding authority at points (Power And Control), while extracting her most vulnerable and delicate vocal qualities (Fear And Loathing) at others. Marina also shows an impressive range adding variety and contrast to her otherwise naturally low voice.

Homewrecker is an odd track with spoken-word verses that burst into a stomping chorus of heavy electronic beats and distant cries of "I'm only happy when I'm on the run, I break a million hearts just for fun", revealing one of Marina's more cold-blooded characters. Current single, Radioactive is a real piece of Pop perfection with a decidedly Ibiza club feel to it. As the dancey, repetitive synths take hold, another character emerges; a darker side to Electra Heart.

However, it's tracks that deal directly with the raw emotion of Electra Heart herself that really steal the limelight. Lies unveils a gentle sadness and hopelessness through a stripped back musical backdrop enabling the frank lyrics to expose, at frightening first hand, a relationship falling apart - "You only want to touch me in the dark, only if we're drinking can you see my spark". Starring Role is also a heart-wrenching affair with a clever analogy based Electra Heart's life being "like a play" - "You know I'd rather walk alone than play a supporting role if I can't get the starring role".

With dazzling moments of beauty, wit and candid lyrics, this is everything you want from a Pop record. The notion of Electra Heart being a concept album was a fairly ambitious one, but it has allowed Marina to be playful in her themes and characters, often with great success. However, I'm not sure it was entirely necessary, more a good 'story' for a second album. But take it how you wish, this is a really interesting record displaying Marina as one of the more 'credible' Pop artists, and the album delivers just enough quirkiness and individuality to dilute, and therefore tolerate, some of the more generic numbers.