Review: Godzone's perceptive, 21st century pop star

By Lydia Jenkin

19 comments
Insightful lyrics add to the formula that's seducing the music world

Lorde is just 16 but writes lyrics with worldly wisdom. Photo / Norrie Montgomery
Lorde is just 16 but writes lyrics with worldly wisdom. Photo / Norrie Montgomery

It takes a brave pop artist these days to publish their lyrics in full, for all to scrutinise, memorise, and wonder about. Ask any musician and they'll likely tell you their lyrics are the most personal aspect of their craft, so it's hard not to admire a teenager who will happily print her lyrics on A1-sized posters and paste them around her home city.

But what makes Lorde worthy of all the hype, is that those lyrics are quite brilliant.

And this is not me saying "she's done well for a 16-year-old" - her knack for combining her insights, with strong phrasing, and ear-worm phonaesthetics (like using thrill of it, killing it, and million in the same line) make her a musical heroine - one who's brave, and bright, and who revels in imperfections.

These are perhaps all things we've known since she released The Love Club EP back in December last year, but as a collection, the 10 tracks on Pure Heroine prove her talents are more than flukey, and that she's able to write from inside and outside the teenage perspective.

The impressive level of self-awareness is what makes her youthful commentary so compelling.

"It's a new art form, showing people how little we care" on Tennis Court; "The men up on the news, they try to tell us all that we could lose, but it's so easy in this blue, where everything is good" from Buzzcut Season; "Maybe the internet raised us, or maybe people are jerks. But not you" on The World Alone.

All those lyrics betray some substantial thinking about what it means to grow up in the 21st century. That feeling of endlessly waiting for the next phase to start, of wanting to live up to and rebel against expectations, of trying to find moments of perfect happiness in amongst the boredom - Lorde sums them up swiftly and guilelessly.

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But she's not all serious pondering - there's a flicker of cheekiness, and plenty of joy to be found in the smaller moments, like on 400 Lux (as close as she comes to a love song) and Royals - its brazen, devil-may-care attitude, and simultaneous critique of pop culture has helped it to reach anthem status.

Towards the end of the album she gets a little reflective on the distinct changes her life has undergone in the past 12 months. Still Sane is like a declaration - she can conquer this new life that's been thrust upon her, she can rise to the top, survive the fame, the endless hotels, the touring, the loneliness. But also reveals her doubts, her apprehension, her vulnerability.

And on White Teeth Teens, she takes on the role of the perfect queen bee (which many may now perceive her as), before revealing "I'll let you in on something big: I am not a white teeth teen, I tried to join but never did".

Of course, none of this lyrical brilliance would matter if she didn't have the voice to deliver it with, and producer Joel Little must be given credit for creating a soundscape that keeps Lorde's voice right in front, and complementing her rhythms and phrasing with the kind of RnB and hip-hop inspired palette which sounds spacious and fresh.

The deep, colossal bass pulses, offset by light snappy percussion, the shifting vocal layers, emphasising the change between her deep smoky tones and sweet, more fragile upper range, and the endlessly appealing melodies - they instantly catch your ear, and make sure these tunes will be popping back into your head for days.

The one small criticism I will make, is that there's nothing surprising here - this album meets all our (admittedly high) expectations, and sounds exactly how we expected Pure Heroine to sound, without having a 'ta-da' moment.

Buzzcut Season and Team are definitely further candidates for song of the year, and will remain on high rotate for some time, but part of me already can't wait to see what she does next.

However, as Lorde herself writes in the liner notes: "I poured my brain and heart into this, and maybe I'll hate it in two years, because that's the nature of being my age, but for now, it's the most powerful thing I can give."


Review

Lorde Pure Heroine (Universal)

Stars: 4.5/5
Verdict: Our new pop heroine lives up to all that promise.

- NZ Herald

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