Whoever is familiar with the music of Marina Diamandis will probably know by now that she is incredibly good at reinventing herself through her music. The half Welsh, half Greek artist has been exploring very different concepts ever since she put out her first record; we’re used to a new “era”, to a drastic change of sound, aesthetics and themes, every time a new album is on the horizon. But much has changed since The Family Jewels: her 2010 debut. Much has changed since her last album Froot too.
The artist now goes by MARINA rather than Marina & The Diamonds, and she is not afraid of being herself anymore. LOVE + FEAR, her newest LP, feels like she has found a very honest and sincere approach to making mainstream pop in 2019. The album is less of a concept album than most of her trajectory; 2012’s Electra Heart explored female identities and archetypes through the made-up character that gave the project a title, and the Neon Nature Tour, the show that took her third album Froot around the world, had costume changes and scenography to match the self-indulgent, empowered aesthetic of the record.
it’s a double album that successfully acknowledges the duality of our minds and hearts as human beings, while also being a personal account of the place she is in at the moment
But LOVE + FEAR is based on a very simple idea that Diamandis came across while studying psychology at the University of London during her hiatus. She explained Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s theory to Refinery29, saying “[Kübler-Ross] states that everything that we do stems from love or fear. So, love and fear are the two primary human emotions that all of our other emotions come out of.” Diamandis then found it easy to start classifying her writing -according to whether it came from a place of love or a place of fear. This turned her new record into a double album that successfully acknowledges the duality of our minds and hearts as human beings, while also being a personal account of the place she is in at the moment.
The first half, LOVE, is the most sonically varied, and yet the most cohesive of the two. The opener, Handmade Heaven, acts as a perfect prologue for what’s to come. The sound of this first single is reminiscent of some of her softer songs from previous albums, such as ‘Immortal’ from Froot or ‘Valley of the Dolls’ from Electra Heart, but the lyrical content is completely different. In ‘Handmade Heaven’ and the rest of LOVE, Marina explores her relationship with the world she lives in, from natural landscapes to her connections with others and herself, and we can see she is pretty happy with where she is at. LOVE also contains one of the first love songs we’ve had the chance to hear from her: ‘Superstar’, a genuine tribute that sounds so very different from everything she has put out before, yet grows on you the more you listen to it, and it comes across as mature and poetic.
The other main highlight from this half of the album is her third single, ‘To Be Human’, which is “probably the most important song in the record”, according to Marina herself. The themes in this song encapsulate the unity across humankind discussed, and the universal feelings we can see in the rest of LOVE + FEAR. ‘Enjoy Your Life’ is also an excellent stand-out track – the line “sit back and enjoy your problems, you don’t always have to solve them” made me feel so called out, yet I only wanted to congratulate Diamandis.
The string arrangements, build-ups, and beat drops feel fresh and different from the Latin guitar sound of some of the tracks from LOVE
When it comes to FEAR, things get a bit more complicated, both in terms of themes and sound. We can see the same type of sound as we had in LOVE, but this time it’s a bit more similar to what Diamandis has done in the past. The string arrangements, build-ups, and beat drops feel fresh and different from the Latin guitar sound of some of the tracks from LOVE, and it’s really easy to see the influence of Clean Bandit on MARINA’s new sound. Jack Patterson, Marina’s partner, and his band had already collaborated with her back in 2017, and their newest track featuring Marina is in the LOVE half of the album. The spacious electronic sound feels both like a tribute and a result of Diamandis spending time with the band during her hiatus years. Nevertheless, the choruses in FEAR are simple, and the melodies sound more familiar, and I dare say slightly less original. This is something that I, personally, enjoyed at first, but LOVE + FEAR is an album that grows on you, one of the reasons I am grateful that Diamandis released the first half earlier than planned. It is music to be digested slowly, to go back to and to explore in our own time. And LOVE makes it all worth it, but FEAR might be less consistent in this sense. The FEAR half is way more straight-forward and sarcastic in lyrical terms, though. ‘Karma’ and ‘No More Suckers’ are feisty, fun, and empowering but in a very different way from the first half of the album.
Overall, the length of the songs makes the album sound slightly rushed: the song that gives her third album a name, Froot, is almost six minutes long, whereas, in this one, there is only one song that reaches four minutes. The structure of the songs feels basic, especially knowing what Marina Diamandis is capable of, but the whole album is still a very good pop record. Some of the lyrics are beautifully poetic (“all of the days that we spend apart, my love is a planet revolving your heart” from ‘Superstar’ comes to mind), and the evolution in her sound is definitely something to be praised. More importantly, it sounds like she has reached a place of maturity, of internal peace and acceptance, and a state of reflection and self-awareness that is always very interesting to see in an artist. I think MARINA has got her fanbase used to such high-quality pop music, different from most charting popstars, that the standards used to analyse her music are way more complex – therefore making it easy for her to produce a record that comparatively, might not be as good as her previous work, but that is still able to stand on its own as an amazingly well-crafted collection of music.