As someone who has rather "alternative" taste in female musicians (Björk, Kate Bush, PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor, etc), when I first heard "The Family Jewels" back in 2010 I was totally obsessed. The quirky welsh girl who wrote and composed her own songs on her cheap keyboard that she bought from Argos totally captured my imagination and became one of my favourite artists. Her music was the perfect combination of "indie" and pop - and it was a relief to actually have an album of fun pop music that actually had some credibility. It was some of the most beautiful pop music I had ever heard.
In 2011 she surprised us all by releasing the very commercially influenced "Radioactive", and I became rather worried about this next album. When "Primadonna" came out I was relieved. Yes, it was sugary bubblegum pop, but Marina's voice sounded amazing and her pretty quirkiness was back and actually sounded really cool surrounded by the commercial but well produced beats courtesy of Dr Luke. I resisted the urge to write a review straight away, as many other reviewers have, as I wanted to live with the album for a while and know how I felt about it.
The album starts with "Bubblegum Bitch", which sounds like a song from the opening credits from a 90's American teen chick film ("Clueless" springs to mind for me). "Lies" and "Starring Role" are both very currently commercial in their sound, but Marina's lyrics and genuine sounding vocal delivery rescue them from being total sell-outs.
"The State Of Dreaming" starts out sounding like its title - dreamy, ethereal and beautiful, and suddenly explodes into a very poppy, sweet but catchy chorus. "Power and Control" and "Living Dead" use powerful 80's sounding beats and epic choruses and work very well.
A few reviewers have said the second half of the album gets a bit dull, but I think it's where the album really turns into a better, more satisfying direction. "Teen Idle" is atmospheric, dark, and beautifully layered. Those who loved "I Am Not A Robot" and "Numb" from the previous album will be relieved to know that Marina hasn't lost her touch for writing beautiful melancholic pop songs. The lyrics (about a suicidal teenager who wishes she were popular) and production make it quite a dark song, so it's interesting to hear cheerleader chants being used in such an interesting, creative, and actually quite beautiful way - almost as if their presence depresses the "character" singing the song and actually cheer on the fact that she is suicidal.
The final four tracks on the special edition are really good. "Radioactive" sounds really good in context with the rest of the album. "Buy the Stars" is classic Marina - it sounds like "Obsessions" but is actually far more beautiful; silly not be included in the album, but perhaps too similar in style to "The Family Jewels" to be officially included.
What makes this album stand out is Marina's unique vocals, lyrics and melodies, and even the production has a unique edge to it - chirping birds, deep bass lines, and strange electronic effects. It's an interesting mix of sweet and sugary combined with dark melancholia, conjuring up images of Barbie (or some other high profile names in the pop world) on a hangover from alcohol and illegal substances and re-evaluating whether the "glamorous" and pretentious life and relationships she's created for herself are actually making her happy.
There's a lot being said about this album being Marina "selling-out" - do I think it's true? No! The lyrics and vocals sound genuine and are beautifully performed. The songs themselves are wonderfully written - Marina is a wonderfully gifted and clever song writer. This may be a pop album, but it's full of well written songs and lyrical substance to back it up. It may not be the experimental masterpiece that "The Family Jewels" was, but it's a wonderfully melancholic pop album from a wonderful, genuine, and honest artist nonetheless.