Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Album Review: Lorde - Pure Heroine (2013)

“There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”  - Oscar Wilde

Whatever your take on 16-year-old Kiwi “pop sensation” Lorde, there’s no denying she’s everywhere at the moment. She's on top of the Billboard charts, on the radio, on television, and featuring in just about every other form of the news media – whether that be in the print/hard copy form, or merely popping up at hourly intervals in the much-harder-to-ignore cyberspace. Social media in particular has gone into overdrive, with Lorde being subjected to bitter tirades from crestfallen Miley Cyrus fans, and later getting into hot water for her own remarks on Taylor Swift's role modelling ... etc etc. Suddenly everything she does is big news. There was even a bizarre spat (of sorts) between a couple of high profile local bloggers about the wider relevance of Lorde's music, something that ties in nicely with the above well worn quote.

I’m quite sure it’ll pass and the current levels of both hype and controversy will die down sooner rather than later. It will all come back to the music in the end, but the way things are panning out, 2013 is definitely shaping up as The Year of Our Lorde. I use the word “our” in the same way some others might summon the royal “we”, and I do so because she’s local, and here in New Zealand, Lorde is a pretty big deal right now.

And so with all of this going on, curiosity naturally got the better of me and I couldn’t resist picking up a copy of her album, Pure Heroine, as soon as it was released last week. I could say that I did so only on behalf of my 15-year-old daughter, but that would be a glaring fib. She’ll merely be an indirect – albeit happy – beneficiary of her old man’s rabid music consumerism.
For all that grizzled middle-aged blokes are not Lorde’s target market, my first impression of the album is that it’s much better than I anticipated. There’s some great tunes, some quality songwriting, and Joel Little’s production certainly allows the music to breathe in a way that showcases an unexpected level of maturity. Little also enjoys co-writing credits on the majority of material on the album. There’s no question Lorde does teenage pop way better than most – these songs are very catchy, even if their durability has yet to be put to any sort of longevity test.

If I have a moan, it’s that over the course of a whole album Lorde’s voice starts to grate. It’s fine in short bursts, it even has a certain gravitas about it for one so young, but across the near 40 minutes it takes to traverse Pure Heroine, the vocal did start to become a little tiresome in parts.

I’m also very wary about embracing the notion that going number one on iTunes and Billboard (with ‘Royals’), is somehow a barometer of what’s good and what isn’t. It’s certainly an achievement, no question, but all it really means is that she’s incredibly on-the-button right now and ‘Royals’ is a catchy little tune with a great hook. It doesn’t necessarily mark it as “quality”, and it doesn’t in any way whatsoever guarantee a long and successful career in the ultra fickle world of pop music.

But good luck to Lorde regardless. This is a pretty impressive start, and what a weary old cynic like me thinks is hardly important in the wider scheme of things. This is all about the moment, the now, and Lorde's living it.

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