For over a decade, New Zealand has been best known as the picturesque backdrop for native Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy. That was until this past summer when Jackson, Frodo Baggins and the rest of the hobbits got abdicated from their thrones. A new “Lorde” now sits pretty at the top, effortlessly monopolizing US airwaves with an unabashed take on her so-called teenage life.
Lorde, born Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor, is a 16 year-old singer-songwriter who became an overnight alt-pop sensation with her fireball hit “Royals,” a synth-driven track that mocks the gluttony of a lavish lifestyle. First released as a track on her debut EP “The Love Club,” “Royals” quickly rose to the top of the Billboard Alternative Songs chart in the US, and currently holds the record for longest reign by a female on this chart. “Royals” also found its way to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, making her the youngest artist to ascend to this spot.
So what makes Lorde so different from all of the other under-21 pop stars who have come and gone? Mainly, she stands out for her ethereal voice and thoughtful songwriting. While her songs focus on adolescent themes, Lorde still shines in her mature and smart approach to making music.
Master producer Joel Little paired up with Lorde to put together a follow-up LP that could continue to ride the success of “Royals.” At the end of September, the duo released “Pure Heroine,” and Lorde’s momentum has since shown no signs of slowing down.
Overall, “Pure Heroine” features a streamlined electro-pop sound that centers on Lorde’s unique voice and catchy tempo. Layered reverb and a barrage of computer-generated drum beats provide an unobtrusive scaffold for all of the tracks. While Little’s soundboard techniques find overall success, the uniformity of sound offers listeners very little variety from song to song. With attention spans at a minimum these days, even 37 minutes of monotony can cause listeners to drift.
The album opens with the lyrics “Don’t you think it’s boring how people talk” on “Tennis Court,” an empowering varsity anthem fitted with enough “yeahs” to put Usher on the bench. “400 Lux” chronicles a typical teenage joyride as Lorde sings, “We’re hollow like the bottles that we drink…We might be hollow but we’re brave.” What teenager can’t relate to that?
“Royals” shows up in the third spot, and shines like the diamonds and Cadillacs Lorde sings about with such disdain. It will be interesting to see if Lorde maintains her outlook on luxury with all of the royalties quickly filling her bank account. “Ribs” is rich with reverb and club beats worthy of valiant fist pumps, while “Buzzcut Season” is a xylophonic summertime masterpiece. “Buzzcut Season” shines in its out-of-this-world dreaminess with lyrics like, “I live in a hologram with you.”
The “Team” intro borrows from Gorillaz’s “Clint Eastwood,” transitioning then into an upbeat stomp-clamp homage to clique-culture, minus the exclusive air. “Glory and Gore” doesn’t back down from a challenge, with strong lyrics like, “You can try to take us, but victory’s contagious,” evoking images of an anarchic, shirtless Christian Slater in the 90s cult classic “Pump up the Volume.” Look it up.
When the album reaches “Still Sane,” the background cavernous dip echoes begin to bore, though Lorde is still all business and hustle. This 16 year-old is on a crash course to losing her mind, but she seems just fine with that. “White Teeth Teens” soars with a militant snare drum/tambourine combo and faraway layered background vocals.
On the album closer, “A World Alone,” Lorde echoes the teenage mantra that life is a lonely journey, amidst the catty chatter that fills the song’s empty space. As if to come full circle from the album’s beginning, Lorde deadens the noise and ends it all with, “Let ‘em talk.”
“Pure Heroine” is almost pure pop genius. The authenticity found in Lorde’s songwriting proves that she is very close to these words. She’s writing from her own experience, and in brutal honesty she continues to reach listeners who feel the same. As a whole, the album can start to feel repetitive, but when the tracks are taken separately, they are golden.