An expensive-sounding failure
Ever since she began, Marina Diamandis has battled with the idea of what it means to be a female pop star. In 2009, she famously blogged about Shakira’s ‘She Wolf’ video, chastising the Colombian singer’s skimpy outfits and cage-dancing. A line in that post seems prescient now: “The reason why I loved Shakira originally was for her strength, self respect and intellect. She obtained worldwide success just by being her very original self.”
But at some point last year, Marina broke with this logic and her very own “original self”. Her 2010 debut ‘The Family Jewels’ may have established her as a songwriter of some dynamism (from the simple but devastating ‘I Am Not A Robot’ to ‘Hollywood’’s pithy articulation of her love/hate relationship with celebutard culture), but it wasn’t enough for her. Last year she was quoted as saying she was “pissed off” that she wasn’t bigger and, in a possibly subconscious (yet explicit) reference to that call-to-arms blog post, said: “The likes of Shakira and Lady Gaga could be my peers.” But to get to the place of pop supremacy she wanted to be at, she had to kill Marina off.
This has paved the way for her polar opposite alter ego, Electra Heart. And if Marina was dolefully self-analytical, EC is
all about gaudy, shiny surfaces and instant gratification. Promo photos have seen Diamandis dolled up with bottle blonde hair, sporting babydoll dresses and giving off a ‘gee, shucks’ sense of Americana. “I want to be a real fake”, she sings on ‘Teen Idle’, a song that sees her offing the Bible-clutching, suicidal girl she once was in favour of a chocolate-cake-eating “21st-century whore” – an understandable sentiment in a world where introspection is on a par with “likes drowning kittens” as an admirable personality trait.
To make her post-modern wheeze chart-friendly, she’s brought in the big Top 40 guns of Stargate (Rihanna) and Dr Luke (Katy Perry), who pair up her operatic vocals with thumping house beats and tinny electronics. It’s a strange marriage of an existential personality crisis spliced over the sound of two-for-one bottles of WKD being bought and dry ice spreading on the dancefloor. Every chart-friendly sound is thrown up against the wall here – pop-punk, dubstep, drive-time rock, Italo disco – but the sense that she’s tragically simplified everything which made her special to begin with is unshakeable, and nothing really resounds until the second half. It’s here that ‘The State Of Dreaming’, the aforementioned ‘Teen Idle’ and the ‘Sweet Dreams’-esque ‘Living Dead’ pair her flighty pop with deeper lyrical themes, and all suggest a depressive coma that would lead anyone – not just Electra Heart – to dress like Shirley Temple lost in a trailer park.
These songs aside, the album as a whole is an expensive-sounding failure. Not sure-footed enough in its subversion, its artificiality feels fake rather than carefully plotted.