Marina Diamandis has never fully defined her place in pop. Too polished for indie audiences, too quirky to be mainstream, she never became a household name, despite topping the album charts with 2012’s Electra Heart. The Welsh singer and keyboardist, now living in Los Angeles, is at her unpredictable prime again on a fifth album that strikes a balance between sparkling pop and more eclectic fare. As usual, there is a gearshift from her previous effort of hers, 2019’s Love + Fear, a double album released in two parts three weeks apart. The singer, who originally performed as Marina & The Diamonds, has always been a chameleon, updating her sound on a regular basis, and Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land takes much of the old theatricality out of her for something more honest and open. . Diamandis, 35, has billed this as her ‘female’ album. Like Love + Fear, it’s a two-halves album, though this time, thankfully, it comes as one package. The first part is packed with catchy refrains and cares about the world outside your window. The second, dominated by heartbreaking ballads, is about a broken romance.
It certainly feels like you are speaking directly to the listener. In Electra Heart, she raided the costume box, adopted a vampire alter-ego (Electra), and sang bubblegum pop tunes in an attempt to compete with Katy Perry and Britney Spears. Now we are looking at something closer to the Royal Navy, and the results are even more admirable. The first four songs are written without being preachers. Sung to a forceful soprano, Man’s World is a denunciation of the patriarchy, while Purge The Poison looks at the evils of the world through the eyes of a disapproving mother nature. It’s a song that addresses climate change, the need for more female politicians, and, oddly, the victimization of her heroine, Britney. The title track is more elegant, reflecting on life as it portrays Marina as the bearer of a torch handed down from ancient times. That sounds heavy, but it’s not: the song has a happy beat, its punchy electronics paves the way for a chorus between The Glitter Band and Muse. In line with the album’s female perspective, the singer co-produced six of her ten tracks with multi-instrumentalist Jennifer Decilveo. Diamandis also enlists the help of a male writer and producer, James Flannigan, but Decilveo’s contributions are indicative of a growing female presence behind the mixing desk, and the last few months have seen major albums by Weezer and Alanis Morissette. produced or co-produced by women (Suzy Shinn and Catherine Marks). The second half of Ancient Dreams is cuter.
Marina moved from London to West Hollywood after splitting from long-term boyfriend Jack Patterson, of electronic dance act Clean Bandit, and it’s hard not to see some of these songs as a reflection of the ensuing upheaval. There’s a vulnerability to Highly Emotional People and plaintive ballad Flowers. But amid the regrets, an air of confidence and empowerment shines through. I Love You But I Love Me More is a surging piano and synth number. Closing track Goodbye is philosophical about the ending of a chapter (‘Goodbye to the girl that I was, goodbye to the girl that you lost’). Ancient Dreams feels like a new beginning.
So maybe Marina still doesn’t quite fit in, but it seems to suit her very well. It’s hard to believe that Maroon 5 was formed from the ashes of a high school grunge band, Kara’s Flowers, with the silky singer Adam Levine once worshiping at the altar of such rude voices as Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder. Far from turning the volume dials to 11, the Los Angeles sextet has become a master of unassuming pop and classy R&B. There’s a generic feel to the pop numbers on the new album Jordi, with nothing quite as inventive as his early hits Harder To Breathe and This Love, or as flashy as Moves Like Jagger, the Christina Aguilera duo that breathed new life into the group in 2011. R&B workouts are dominated by guests, including rapper Megan Thee Stallion, but the record ultimately affirms her personality. The band’s stalwarts Jesse Carmichael (keyboards) and James Valentine (guitar) are excellent contrasts to Levine’s sweet hum on Beautiful Mistakes and sun-drenched One Light. Stevie Nicks brings the agile essence of Fleetwood Mac to Remedy, a duet with Levine. There are two poignant references to the band’s late manager, Jordan Feldstein, who died in 2017. Feldstein’s nickname was Jordi, hence the album’s title; and he is also honored in the Memories that look like hymns. As befits a band made up of a Scottish singer, Shirley Manson, and three good boys from the American Midwest, Garbage covers the coast in No Gods No Masters, his third album since a 2010 reunion. Confessional tracks rub shoulders with protest songs, heavy rockers, and a New Order-style dance number. Manson has a great voice, admitting to her vulnerabilities in Uncomfortbly Me, and apologizing for being a ‘baby rattlesnake’ in Wolves. Melodic hooks are the second fiddle of pulsating rhythms, but there is a melodic ballad in This City Will Kill You. Manson has already sung a great Bond song (The World Is Not Enough). This could be another. All albums on sale today. Garbage will kick off a UK tour with Blondie on 6th November at the M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool ).