03 June 2010

Marina and the Diamonds: "Family Jewels"

I came across Marina and The Diamonds late last year, and have had her debut album, “The Family Jewels” (22 February 2010 in the UK, 25 May 2010 in the USA), for some time now, but admittedly did not really listen to it, until Belladonna (aka my favorite Aussie!) told me, “Roman, she’s fabulous…” So I took another listen, my first serious listen supplanting everything I’ve heard about the album and Marina, and I have to admit I really liked it. My first reaction was that I see the comparisons with Little Boots, but other than a sort of frivolity, I don’t see the comparisons with Lady Gaga. If Marina and the Diamonds should be compared with anyone, it is Kate Bush… yes, Kate Bush, the brilliant songstress whose music is haunting and singularly unique. Marina and The Diamonds (really a solo act of Marina Lambrini Diamandis, hailing from Wales) has produced an album that is pop, but not throwaway, fun, but serious, and new wavish, but not part of any revival movement.

An interesting fact about Marina is that she has synesthesia – a condition where one sense melts into another. In her case, musical notes produce different color sensory impressions. Imagine hearing an “A” note, and always seeing the color blue in your mind; though I am not sure how her synesthesia works, I wonder if she capitalized on it when writing music. Through her own admission, she does not come from a musical background, yet her music is… well… colorful. Opening with “Are You Satisfied?” she sings, “I was pulling out my hair the day I cut the deal. Chemically calm, was I meant to feel happy?” The interplay of the stings and piano ingeniously carry the music, perhaps singing of her own opportunity at fame she later sings, “Are you satisfied with an average life? Do I need to lie to make my way in life? High achiever, don’t you see, baby nothing comes for free. They say I am a control freak, driven by greed to succeed… nobody can stop me.” No rest, as the second track floods in with the new wave influenced electro bass line, but softened with the piano, and then given grit with the guitar. “Shampain” is Marina at her best… playful and introspective, conventional but quirky. This is a BIG song, and one of the few that you really get to hear the music really unfurl.

For the most part, this is an album built around the vocals of Marina. I would imagine that some people might find this to be a fault, in that you really do not get to experience the power of the music in long, luscious arrangements. My response to that line of thought is that that is not the point of these songs. Think of bands like Yazoo and Erasure, both Vincent Clarke writing music around the power of vocalists, Marina’s music is about displaying her vocals, introspections, and musings about others. Take “Obssessions,” you may find the piano arrangement catchy as hell, thinking at first it is going to be a ballet, and then the beat drops into something totally different, sort of like the lyrics: “Sunday, wake up, give me a cigarette. Last night’s love affair is looking vulnerable in my bed. Silk sheet, blue dawn, Colgate, tongue warm, “Won’t you quit your crying?” I can’t sleep. One minute I’m a little sweetheart, and next minute you are an absolute creep.”

There are many jewels amongst “The Family Jewels.” Just to mention another, “Hermit the Frog.” What a “waltzy,” flirty song! The sexual tension is thick in this ditty, as Marina justifies her own sexuality: “They call him Hermit the Frog, he’s looking for a dog. Did you find a bitch in me?” But let’s go back to those comparisons. Definitely Little Boots, though sonically not too similar, there is that same sense of joie de vivre in their music. Definitely not Lady Gaga; the music here is not as safe, not as mainstream, Marina and the Diamonds delivers pop music that is not cookie cutter or laden with production gimmicks to get you to listen. And definitely Kate Bush… this is memorable, distinct from her contemporaries, and about the music. I have never been attracted to the reputation of a moniker or the celebrity of an artist; it has to be about the music. And “The Family Jewels” delivers incredible music, a colorful, synesthetic soundscape that is seductive and playful.



Track Listing UK:
1. Are You Satisfied?
2. Shampain
3. I Am Not a Robot
4. Girls
5. Mowgli’s Road
6. Obsessions
7. Hollywood
8. The Outsider
9. Hermit the Frog
10. Oh No!
11. Rootless
12. Numb
13. Guilty

Track Listing USA:
1. Are You Satisfied?
2. Shampain
3. I Am Not a Robot
4. Girls
5. Mowgli’s Road
6. Obsessions
7. Hollywood
8. The Outsider
9. Guilty
10. Hermit the Frog
11. Oh No!
12. Seventeen
13. Numb

14. The Family Jewels, iTunes edition
15. Seventeen, Japanese Edition
16. Hollywood video, Japanese Edition

Keep up with Marina and the Diamonds at her homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here are both versions of her video “I Am Not a Robot” [and “I Am Not a (L.A.) Robot”] from her YouTube Channel: Marinaandthediamonds.



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