There’s a saying that goes “when a man screams, you must learn to whisper”. That saying pretty much sums up the success of New Zealand newcomer Lorde’s surprise smash of the year “Royals”. In the middle of many songs that are produced as loud and pushed to the max as possible, songs about partying til dawn and “put your hands up”, comes a beautifully layered but minimal song about how completely irrelevant and plastic all of that is. And we took notice. Then we found out Lorde was only 16 when she recorded the song, and we were shocked. Lorde has the vocals and writing ability of a woman twice her age. An “old soul” as they say. Quickly her first EP The Love Club made its rounds, only available in the states as a download, but in New Zealand as a physical CD. It had some extremely impressive moments and set the world up for Pure Heroine. Originally Pure Heroine only contained one carry-over from The Love Club, “Royals”. However this was forgivable. At only ten tracks, it is a short but precise collection with no filler. This week an MP3 version was released, Pure Heroine Extended, which contains the remaining four tracks from The Love Club, and the b-side “Swingin Party”. Essentially this is her discography thus far, aside from a dark reconstructed version of Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” on the recent Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack.
The album starts with a very minimal 808 beat. “Don’t you think that it’s boring, how people talk?” starts off “Tennis Court”. “It’s a new art form showing people how little we care”, and singing about some of the excitement that lies ahead in her quickly escalating stardom. The video is creepy, but in a good way, where Lorde just gazes into the camera and utters nothing else but the phrase “YEAH!” when it comes up. Effective! “400 Lux” sways in next, also with a minimalist beat, as do many of the songs here. This approach showcases Lorde’s vocals and multi-tiered choruses. This one seems to be about the haze of losing yourself in teenage boredom with a possible significant other. “Royals”… what can I say that I haven’t earlier? It’s the kind of song that changes the entire shape of what is and can be “pop”. It’s a song I don’t mind getting stuck in my head because it’s just so good. Her list of everything wrong with pop songs was enough to catch me off guard when I first heard it and sit up and take note. “Ribs” makes teenage romance sound far romantic than anything any of Lorde’s peers could throw out there, romanticizing the absolutely ordinary. She has quite a gift for painting pictures with her lyrics. “Buzzcut Season” is another highlight amongst many. Lyrics such as “I remember when your head caught flame” are sure to catch attention. Her melody here is so sweet and simple.
Halfway through comes my personal favorite, “Team”, storming in with a break beat similar to Billy Squier’s “The Big Beat”. For me everything about this track is absolute perfection. But the zinger is the line “I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air… so there!”. I’m very happy this was selected as her newest video, as I actually like this one even more than “Royals”. Creeping in next is “Glory and Gore” with it’s great lines like “Everyone a rager, but secretly they’re saviours”. Musically by this point you realize that all of the songs follow a basic sound that ties them together, while each song has its own distinct voice and melody. This consistency make the album a great start to finish listen. “Still Sane” is Lorde’s ode to her own success. “I’m little but I’m coming for the crown”. Her love of royalty and the class of aristocracy is a recurring theme here. Why live for bling, when nobility and admiration are so much better on a grand scale? “White Teeth Teens” perfectly captures Lorde’s disdain for the popular rich kids. The last song “A World Alone” sums the album up with an ode to walking your own path and ignoring the world around you.
The Extended edition adds the rest of The Love Club EP. This is great because “Bravado” is really a great song that shouldn’t get left behind. This is one she continues to sing live on her promotional appearances. the song has a very cinematic scope and fits right at home with the newer songs. “Million Dollar Bills” is quite a bit happier sounding than the other songs. While it works, it sounds like Lorde hadn’t quite found her sound yet. But it’s also a break from the darker wave of the full album. “The Love Club” is a bit faster than the other songs and has a bounce to it. Even when songs like this are a bit different, the fact that Joel Little handled all production keeps a musical thread running through all of the songs. “Biting Down” has a slight bit more trip hop thing going on and a bit of Florence + The Machine feel to it. The final track “Swingin Party” is a virtual b-side to “Tennis Court” (see what she did there?). “If being afraid is a crime we hang side by side at a swingin party down the line”. So basically it’s a party anti-anthem for the disenfranchised. The somber synths carry the last echoes of this album off into the dark. The end. I actually prefer the Extended edition because it gives an extra third to the album, yet doesn’t feel like it’s tossing off disjointed outtakes. These songs all have purpose and aren’t just filler to pad “Royals”.
Pure Heroine is one of those rare albums that floored me on the first listen. In a pop landscape filled with a lot of meaningless party music and an abundance of sameness, it’s nice to know someone out there isn’t playing the game with the same rules. And when she stands up to say something she is rewarded with listeners eager for something different. This is Lorde’s first album at 17 years old. Only one cowriter/producer Joel Little. Not a host of collaborators, primpers and production teams. It’s exciting to think what the future holds for Lorde, and I certainly hope she’s around for a long time.
Get your own copy of Pure Heroine here:
Check out these videos and performances from the album:
“Buzzcut Season” (from Vevo Halloween):
“White Teeth Teens” (Live on Letterman):