So, when all is said and done, it was actually pretty easy to review this. Cos it’s very very good.

Beyoncé – Beyoncé

A few hours after writing this I read Caroline Sullivan’s review in The Guardian. She calls it the ‘comeback of the year’ which, in a year where we’ve seen the return of David Bowie and Daft Punk, is hyperbole and then some. Still, having not paid attention to BG in years I was surprised by how right it feels to have him releasing music again.

Boy George – This Is What I Do

loved Teenage Dream, to the degree that I actually went to see Part of Me in the cinema (it was a 20 minute dvd extra stretched to feature length). Hopes were high for Prism and in my head I’d already planned a pre-emptively defensive piece on why Perry is a great pop star. Then I actually heard the album and it ruined everything – it’s just not that great and feels driven by marketing concerns more than anything else. Someone has pointed out in the comments that I mistakenly called International Smile, ‘International Lover’…but that’s because the former is so bland that after listening to it about 12 times I think I was subconsciously craving the Princely magic of the latter. Back in the day I loved Britney Spears and now I think she’s one of the worst pop stars in history; I had a similar trajectory with Rihanna; now I’m fearful Perry is heading the same way. I think there’s a lot in there regarding modern pop and commerce, touched on in the review…but that’s for another time.

Katy Perry – Prism

Review: Pure Heroine – Lorde

Lorde wants you to know that she’s different. Much has been made of the fact that “Royals,” her platinum-selling breakout hit, was inspired by a cool disdain for the bling rhetoric of “jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash” which Lorde felt dominated the pop landscape as she grew up in New Zealand. Certainly its opening claim, “I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh,” can’t help but seem like an arch rejoinder to chart queen Rihanna. There’s nothing new, of course, about youthful rebellion against an ostensibly monolithic culture, but “Royals” almost feels like a watershed moment: the very deliberate cross-pollination that has characterized chart pop since rap and (more recently) electronic dance music encroached upon its sales is ingrained in the 16-year-old Lorde. It feels entirely organic that she expresses her anti-materialist sentiment over a sparse backing owing much to hip-hop and also drawing on the lo-fi aesthetic typical of British post-dubstep artists like Burial, The xx and James Blake.

Lorde’s story so far has more than the whiff of a more iconic British artist around it. Like Kate Bush, she was discovered as a teenager and has been mentored until her emergence on the scene, seeming fully formed and sounding quite unlike anything else around. The confident introspection of “Royals” is typical of Lorde’s debut, Pure Heroine, an album which is striking in its precocious self-awareness.  It shouldn’t seem so unusual that a teenager can be so articulate, of course – perhaps expectations have been corrupted by the asinine gloss of contemporary teenage artists such as Justin Bieber and One Direction. Whatever the reason, it’s disarming to hear Lorde’s smouldering voice singing lyrics that convey an authentic and engaging honesty. Her difference is no teenage pose, then, and being as savvy as she is talented Lorde draws attention to this contrast at several points throughout the album – most notably in “Team” where she drily notes “I’m kinda over getting told to throw my hands up in the air…so there.”

Aside from distinguishing herself from mainstream pop Lorde also draws on more traditional ideas of the outsider, with the album from its title onwards portraying an eagerness for a life lived beyond traditional mores. By the time we get to the big reveal of penultimate track “White Teeth Teens” we know what’s coming: “I’ll let you in on something big – I’m not a white teeth teen.”  This ‘I’m not like other girls’ shtick rarely falls into cliché, however, with Lorde’s words frequently seeming more literary than lyrical (her mother is a poet and she has spoken of being influenced by Kurt Vonnegut and Raymond Carver). The wry “Buzzcut Season”, for example, would make Dorothy Parker proud while the opaque love story of “400 Lux” hinges on delightful lines like “I love these roads where the houses don’t change (and I like you)”.  For all the tales of messy romance and allusions to dysfunction, however, the conquering fantasies of “Still Sane” (“I’m little but I’m coming for the crown”) suggest a steely ambition and assurance which fundamentally separate her from the simpering subordination of the oft-cited in comparison Lana Del Rey.

The music quite rightly gives these dazzling lyrics ample space to be noticed. Sparse electronic backing couches Lorde’s vocals on most of these songs and “Royals’” trick of multi-tracking the chorus is repeated to the point of overuse. Nonetheless there is novelty here: the club-friendly “Ribs” repeats its mid-tempo verses as more frenetic choruses riding on a 4/4 beat, an unusual but inspired touch, while an observation that “the sun’s starting to light up when we’re walking home’ is met in the final syllable by a gloriously evocative harmony line in “Glory and Gore”. “Team”, with its Robyn-esque radio-friendly melancholia, is perhaps the most conventional pop song here yet it begins with a processed acapella vocal which becomes more distorted until it loops and falls beneath crunchy drums. The songs unravel like tightly wound coils, bursting with energy and never outstaying their welcome. On paper the starkness should be repetitive but Pure Heroine riffs on a very deliberate, expansive severity. When the closing “A World Alone” adds guitar and sound effects to its dynamic drum patterns and looped vocals, it doesn’t feel like a revelation.

This final song includes a lyric which is destined to be much quoted: “maybe the internet raised us or maybe people are jerks.” That sharp and witty response to the ‘Generation Me Me Me’ handwringing perfectly captures Lorde’s appeal for a generation undoubtedly tired of being spoken for.  In Lorde they, and indeed we, have a compelling, articulate and contemporary voice. Pure Heroine is most certainly only the beginning.

4.5/5

The character of Mary pops up again in Sally Ride, a song named after the first American woman to go into space which draws parallels between her pioneering trip into space and the struggle for women’s rights (and possibly gay marriage) in America. Monáe implores Mary to “wake up”, telling her that she has the “right to choose” and dreaming of a journey to the moon “where there are no rules”. Dorothy Dandridge Eyes, referencing the first African-American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, is a sweet and breezy jazz-tinged number (with another feature, this time the jazz musician Esperanza Spalding) which finds Monáe rhapsodising about a girl who has “got Dorothy Dandridge eyes and you love her, you love that girl” (harking back to Electric Lady which observes that “once you see her face, her eyes you’ll remember and she’ll have you fallin’ harder than a Sunday in September”). The heavy hints of gay themes certainly lend weight to the otherwise confused and confusing sci-fi story and some of the songs here acquire real power when viewed through this prism. The gentle shuffling positivity of Victory, for example, takes on anthemic qualities with the promise that Monáe will “count your every kiss as a victory”.

This was quite an interesting review to write, as I sat down knowing what I was going to say and ended up writing something completely different. It was a pleasant surprise, though – I really enjoyed this one.

Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady

That neither party has ventured beyond nebulous responses in explaining this melodrama only adds to the mystique around this second album, which as a result will inevitably be forensically examined for ‘clues’. It’s difficult, of course, to read too much in this regard into the lyrics of a band who have always described their work as concerning “the good, the bad, and the ugly of relationships”. Nonetheless, opener The One That Got Away suggests at least that whomever sequenced the album knew all too well the reception which awaited it. It’s a suitably portentous introduction, its tone echoing the black smoke billowing into a clear sky depicted on the album’s artwork. The song cleverly inverts the clichés suggested by its title, finding the pair tremulously singing “I wish you were the one that got away” and declaring “I wish I’d never seen your face”. It’s impossible not to feed the album’s backstory into it, yet this only adds to, rather than creates, its compelling dynamism.

The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars

The coffee-table appeal of much of the new songs can’t help but pale, however,  beside performances of Stronger and Freak Like Me, both from aforementioned Angels with Dirty Faces. They remind of how dazzling and daring Sugababes were in their prime – a prime which, it must be said, came when Donaghy had left. There’s an odd moment during Stronger where the crowd goes crazy for Donaghy’s  rendition of what was originally Heidi Range’s middle-eight. Afterwards Buchanan passes her mic to an audience member who shouts ‘don’t fuck with the originals!’ The sentiment is met with uproarious approval but you can’t help feel that it’s all rather petty given Range’s enormous contribution towards making Sugababes the force it was. There’s a strong impression that MKS have been enormously mythologised yet it’s surely telling that they largely ignore their middling (Sugababes) debut this evening.

Review at MusicOMH at link.

Mutya Keisha Siobhan @ Scala, London