The famed indie-pop Welsh singer sheds the moniker “and the Diamonds,” presenting a bold double album that is singular in theme and probes the deep, universal insecurities and emotions that we all endure in life but lacks a personal risk to tie up the loose ends.
In a career-defining move, Marina Diamandis, previously known by her stage name Marina and the Diamonds, dropped the latter name to mononymously go by Marina. Not only is it a defining move in her career as she introduces us to a new era and a new version of herself but she embarks on a unique journey exploring new sounds, genres, themes and even dips her feet lightly into a whole new world of concepts for a concept album and gives us her first double album. Moving away from the indie-pop that she concocted during bouts of depression and self-doubt, Marina enters new territories with definite ingenuity.
Inspired by the research of psychiatrist/grief expert Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Marina explores the argument that there are two primary emotions in love: fear and love. Kubler-Ross’s theory is that “if you are in a place of fear, you cannot be in a place of love – and vice versa” but according to Marina and her own research – there is plenty of overlap. Split into two different parts, the first portion Love is a reverence to romantic love and nostalgia for the familiar; she writes plenty of self-help mantras to convince herself that she’ll be okay behind much anxiety. The other half, Fear, embraces insecurities and tries to understand the weirdness of life. In the end, fear still seeks love.
She opens the double album with the beautiful “Handmade Heaven” which she steeps in swaying whimsy (produced by Lorde’s collaborator Joel Little) which gives us a taste of the rest of what is it come – where optimism is at its core. “Superstar” follows the opening track, a synth-driven pop ballad that sounds like it could soundtrack a Bond film and she follows that up with “Orange Trees,” a carefree track that acts as an ode to her home island in Greece. The only collaboration on the album is Marina’s unofficial comeback track that she features on – the boisterous “Baby” with Clean Bandit and Luis Fonsi. In the album’s first half, the only real misstep is the track “True” which is a preachy self-love anthem that just seems to archaic than necessary and an easy song to hit skip too.
The second half of the record is different than the breezy top-half and is wrought with anxiety, self-doubt and seems to find Marina struggle to find confident sonic footing. The sombre mood of the second half makes it hard to differentiate many of the tracks if it weren’t for the heavy Bieber-era Skrillex production. Marina’s vocal delivery allows a glimmer of personality to shine through the genericism of the latter half. “No More Suckers” showcases a brattier Marina, similar to a Cher Lloyd song while “Too Afraid” is an aching counterpoint to the earlier “Handmade Heaven” and “Orange Trees.”
The issue with safety, as an artistic priority, shields creativity from anxiety and it also dulls an artist’s edge. This is very evident in Marina’s newfound dependence on “melodic math,” the Max Martin-pioneered songwriting technique that involves slotting syllables into an instrumental track – even if the lyrics is semi-incoherent. It is a useful compositional tool but can be wildly incompatible with certain artist’s verbose. The old Marina – the lyricist who was not afraid to detail every bit of description in her songs and the vocalist who wasn’t afraid to punctuate the ends of her sentence with a feral shriek – has disappeared for a more mainstream-pop friendly artist. The temptation of safe is undeniable but mononyms are earned by embracing risk and I hope that Marina minus the Diamonds will continue to take that.
Recommended Song(s): “Baby” (Clean Bandit featuring Marina & Luis Fonsi), “To Be Human,” “Emotional Machine,” “No More Suckers”
Released: April 26, 2019.
Featured Artist(s): Clean Bandit, Luis Fonsi.
Tour: Love + Fear World Tour (2019).
Vinyl Edition: Yes through various sources (as of publishing) - double album, black/white LPs (Official Website).