Marina & the diamonds – The Family Jewels

February 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

Marina Diamandis is quite an enchanting being. This is apparent even in the first fifteen seconds of her eagerly anticipated debut album The Family Jewels, released yesterday (22/02/10) on 679 Recordings. The album’s opener, ‘Are You Satisifed?’, begins with lyrics addressing Diamandis’ feelings concerning her record deal (I was pulling out my hair the day I got the deal / Chemically calm / Was I meant to feel happy that my life was just about to change); right from the start we know this is going to be an interesting listen. We are given the impression that this record is going to be open and candid with the listener, inviting them to ruminate on what exactly they are willing to do for a more than average life, and whether or not they will feel fulfilled if they achieve it. And as the piano and drums kick in, accompanied by strings and synth, our ears know they are going to be entertained as well.

Prior to the album’s release, Marina commented to NME that we should expect “a body of work largely inspired by the seduction of commercialism, modern social values, family and female sexuality”, something that perhaps drew as many scoffs from critics as it did squeals from her fans – Diamonds to give them their correct name. Pop music has never been a particularly respected source when it comes to profound and insightful lyrics, instead being considered as the music we turn to when we just want a damned good sing along or something to dance to. In response to this, many an artist has tried to shun, shake off and distance themselves from the ‘pop’ label. Marina Diamandis is not doing this. And whilst it would be easy to listen to The Family Jewels and only hear superb pop songs, if you take a closer look you’ll find that she really does have something say. In fact, it starts right on the cover, where what may look like a pretty font choice is actually a reference to Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, founded in 1969 to explore and document the cult of celebrity that so captivated him. Parallels can be drawn here with Diamandis’ current single ‘Hollywood’, the seventh track on The Family Jewels. Critics taking the song at face value have knocked the lyrics for being self-indulgent, especially the line Oh my god / You look just like Shakira / No no, you’re Catherine Zeta / Actually my name’s Marina. If they were to listen to the song a little more carefully they would see that this line is a reference both to the way typical fame-crazed L.A. girls speak, and how quickly fame can push you towards being something you’re not.

‘Hollywood’ is not a track in which Diamandis claims she has it all figured out. She sings about Hollywood both attracting and repelling her, letting us know that her mind is (or at least used to be) All filled up with things benign. The same can be said of the album as a whole, it is more of an exploration into the life of a young woman trying to escape the pitfalls and traps of modern living than it is a solution for said problems. ‘Mowgli’s Road’ tells us of Diamandis’ struggle to know exactly just who she wants to be, similarly in ‘The Outsider’ she contemplates whether feeling out of place is something that should be accepted or challenged. It is these self-questioning tracks that seem to work the best. There isn’t a song on the album which isn’t enjoyable, but these two, along with ‘Girls’ and ‘Oh No!’ are my personal favourites. On the latter, Diamandis sings of watching herself become what she said she would not. The track is laden with keyboards and stomping drum programming, which manages not to sound too artificial, instead achieving a captivating sound that makes you want to turn this one up LOUD. ‘Girls’ references the tendency women have to cut each other down, obsess over calories, and live by the values society dictates to them, all the while accompanied by a rumbling drum beat, throbbing bass line, and a chorus that will stick in your head for days.

‘Mowgli’s Road’ starts off with a Cuckoo, just one of many vocal quirks that are found throughout the record. Lyrical content and implied beliefs aside, Diamandis’ voice is the real heart of the album. Some critics have panned her for trying too hard, producing annoying vocals, making herself sound highly unnatural, but in my opinion every single enunciation, stress and inflection adds to the character of the album. Obviously there were critics who felt being a British female warranted comparisons with Lily Allen and Kate Nash, and came out with the opinion that Diamandis was trying to emulate them. Not true. It has always been my opinion that Allen and Nash made their vocals so ‘interesting’ because their songs weren’t, and I have never been anything but annoyed by them (Allen/Nash fans have berated me for this opinion many a time). In this case however, the vocal nuances truly add to the songs. In ‘Hollywood’ the previously highlighted line draws attention to the meaning of the song, in ‘I Am Not A Robot’, the staccatoed vocals add irony to the statement I am not a robot, and in ‘Mowgli’s Road’, the Cuckoos add to the lyrical implication that Diamandis is bewildered and somewhat lost as she faces life’s many decisions. Perhaps my favourite moment of the whole album is found in ‘The Outsider’ in which Diamandis declares I grinned at you softly, cos I’m a fucking WILDCARD.

It’s not all upbeat, ecstatic energy though. One of the album’s finest moments comes in the form of ‘Obsessions’ a song in which focuses more on piano accompaniment than electronic elements. The vocals here are heartfelt and loaded with emotion, as Diamandis sings about a love affair filled with doubt, unpleasant thoughts and, well, obsessions. Here we see that Marina Diamandis is not just a quirky pop star. There is much more to her. In fact, when you take the album as a whole, this is the feeling you are left with. She may indeed be quirky, but more than that, she is individual, and she doesn’t want to follow anyone else’s path. If the coming months and years bring more music of this quality, Marina & the diamonds is going to be a huge success.

Listen to The Family Jewels here.

Buy The Family Jewels here (and help knock bloody Glee from #1), where you can also find ‘Rootless’ as iTunes free single of the week.

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