Marina Diamandis has a habit of ushering in new musical eras with red herrings. After a three-year hiatus that almost prompted her to give up music altogether, the pop star returned at the top end of 2019 with a new name (‘the Diamonds’ are no more, it’s just Marina now) and a song that landed a little lighter than her previous bangers.
‘Handmade Heaven’, steeped in swaying whimsy – courtesy of Lorde super-producer Joel Little – and Disney-fied lyrics (“Bluebirds forever / Colour the sky”), gave us the first taste of a new record – and suggested optimism was at its core. But throughout ‘Love and Fear’, a record of two halves, as its title implies, the gradient of said optimism slips from glowing to downtrodden, before bouncing back again. If pop albums existed as a form of meaningless escapism, Marina is keen to fly the flag for a greater, worldly purpose.
After the opening single comes a delicious decoy: ‘Superstar’, a synth-driven pop ballad that could soundtrack a dozen sports cars careering off a cliff in a Bond film. “Come and save my day / You’re my superstar” she sings. ‘Orange Trees’, the second single, might be more of a swig of Fanta than a sip of fancy San Pellegrino, but there’s something about its carefree nature that makes it difficult to hate. The more boisterous ‘Baby’ – Marina’s unofficial comeback Clean Bandit collaboration – follows.
‘True’ is the only real misstep on the record’s first half: a preachy self-love anthem that feels like it might’ve come together without Marina thinking how the lyrics sound when sang out loud (“Don’t need to add nothing to your skin, skin skin skin / Be happy with the body that you’re in, in, in / Being who you are don’t cost a thing, thing, thing”), but it’s quickly passed over when ‘To Be Human’ arrives.
Here’s a question: which other 2019 pop album features allusions to the corpse of the first leader of the USSR Vladimir Lenin? ‘To Be Human’, a song about finding light in a world that throws plenty of crap at you, reminds us of how Marina got here in the first place: through bare-faced inhibition, and a singular kind of lyrical nonsense that somehow makes lots of sense in her hands. She works it brilliantly.
The ‘Fear’ half of the record, as opposed to the breezy top-half, is wrought with anxiety and self-doubt, which perhaps explains why some of its tracks seem to struggle to find confident sonic footing. Marina’s rhyming schemes are hardly revolutionary, and the sombre mood of makes it hard to differentiate one track from the other. There is hope, though: the slivers of ‘Imogen Heap’-slash-squeaky Bieber-era Skrillex production on the soft ‘You’ lightens things a bit, alongside the sprightly ‘fuck you’ of ‘No More Suckers’. She rounds things out with a moment of self realisation. “I know that when love is lost, it’s only fear in disguise” she coos on ‘Soft To Be Strong’.
What ‘Love + Fear’ might lack in uninhibited pop banger energy – the kind a particular subsection of her fanbase has been begging for since she delved into the saccharine pop world for 2012’s ‘Electra Heart’ – it more than makes up for in the way it depicts an artist doing whatever the fuck she wants.
Marina has spoken candidly about the idea of autonomy in label-shaped pop, and how she’s only willing to make music if it comes from somewhere that matters. It might not land perfectly, but in a time of pop puppetry, Marina is the real deal.