When love is lost it’s only fear in disguise
Having detached herself from her earlier title as Marina And The Diamonds (settling instead for a straightforward ‘Marina’) Welsh musician and songwriter Marina Diamandis has returned after a lengthy break with new outing Love + Fear.
The title of Marina’s latest studio album was inspired by a quote by psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, which suggests that all human emotion stems from love and fear. As an album, it certainly covers a broad scope of ideas that reflect Marina’s vision of life, love and everything in-between since her last album (2015’s Froot – see TEC review previously).
That significant gap between albums was brought about by some misgivings about the whole music industry routine that she’d shackled herself to. As result, Marina took a bit of a sabbatical from the world of music and actually returned to study, opting for a course in psychology (Prior to this, she had also dabbled in writing and commentary by setting up MarinaBook).
Back in 2010, Her debut release The Family Jewels was critically acclaimed as an album that could combine quirkiness with a sharp talent for composition and smart wordplay. That ability evolved for 2012’s Electra Heart, a sort-of concept album that played around with ideas of female iconography and also dabbled in themes of Americana (something that Marina’s contemporary Lana Del Rey had also made her mark with).
Marina’s talents were also combined with some of pop music’s biggest production names, including Liam Howe, Greg Kurstin, Diplo and Stargate. This gave her music a bigger, bolder sound (particularly on Electra Heart) that catapulted her into the ranks of pop queens such as Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. That combination for soaring pop tunes with catchy melodies and smart, shrewd lyrics resonated with an audience that had an appreciation for smart pop (measured against much of chart music’s generic filler).
For her followup album Froot, Marina pulled back to write and compose with a single producer, David Kosten. Although the album offers a more intimate angle for Marina’s songwriting, it still boasted some fine pop bangers (particularly the euphoric ‘Forget’).
But the subsequent routine of touring the Froot album had brought a cloud over Marina’s views on her musical endeavours. “I felt like Marina and the Diamonds had just become this shell and I was trying to break free of it,” she commented in an interview with Rolling Stone, “I just felt completely blocked. It was easier for me to just stop being an artist, which wasn’t the right solution.”
Having rotated back to the world of music, her latest album Love + Fear is perhaps a reflection of those thoughts and feelings during a difficult time. Cast as a double album – or at least an album in two parts – this release is divided between songs delving into themes of both love and fear. As a result, it’s certainly a much more intimate outing than either Electra Heart or Froot.
“I created Love + Fear from a place that was not influence by ego or validation” commented Marina on the album release, “It came from a soft space in my spirit. But releasing it is pressing those old buttons and I am trying to figure out why. Maybe it’s natural. Maybe artists need egos?”
‘Handmade Heaven’, which opens the album (and was also the lead single) presents an ethereal pop tune that touches on themes of a personal paradise or utopia (“But in this handmade heaven, it’s paradise/Bluebirds forever colour the sky”). Critics at the time drew comparisons with Ray Of Light-era Madonna or Lorde for Marina’s latest approach – and that sober pop approach is certainly a theme that dominates Love + Fear as a whole.
“Don’t you waste your time regretting” suggests Marina on ‘Enjoy Your Life’ which is another bright pop reverie which ruminates on themes of optimism. Meanwhile, on ‘True’, themes of self-reflection are explored, particularly the idea that being true to yourself as a strength when faced with other people’s opinions on what to do.
The flamenco flavour of ‘Baby’ presents another fine moment (originally conceived as a single for music outfit Clean Bandit). The rapid-fire lyrical delivery is contrasted with some superb melodic lifts for a sultry pop gem. The song is also given an additional charm by the Spanish lyrical insert by Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi.
Equally, the airy qualities of ‘To Be Human’ presents perhaps Love + Fear’s most intimate song as Marina reels off a list of locations around the world. This travelogue revolves around a theme of common humanity and is, perhaps, a commentary on the turmoil that currently engulfs both the political and cultural landscape at the moment (in much the same way that Erasure’s World Be Gone offered a sober reflection of the world which ran counterpoint to their earlier, brasher electro pop).
Lyrically, it presents some of Marina’s most poignant work with “The pagodas and the palaces/Dressed in gold leaf hide the damages” being matched later by the visual power of lines like “The missiles and the bombs sound like symphonies gone wrong.”
Meanwhile, ‘Life Is Strange’ presents a strings-driven narrative whose clipped tones explore the human condition. In particular the idea that as confused as we are, everyone else likely feels the same way. It gives lines such as “And I thought that I had lost my mind/Scared I was the only one, I didn’t realise” a surprising emotional heft.
The more organic ‘Karma’ throws in some acoustic guitar on a tune that lyrically deals with the inevitability of karma catching up on people (“Don’t be sorry when it comes around”) and the startlingly obvious conclusion that self-awareness is usually lacking in those moments (“You’re only sorry when you’re coming down, down, down”).
There’s more reflection on the airy ‘Too Afraid’ (“I wanna move on, but I’m just too afraid”) while the more on-point ‘No More Suckers’ swerves back to the more arch narratives that Marina explored so well on earlier outings. “No more suckers in my life/All the drama gets them high” is, perhaps, a sentiment that we can all recognise.
Closing the album out is ‘Soft To Be Strong’, a piano-led composition featuring some ethereal vocals from Marina which pursues an optimistic direction in which “the fear is gone”. Certainly lines such as “I believe the world is beautiful/Only the weak ones are cruel” seem to carry a universal truth that can buoy up jaded spirits in troubled times.
Love + Fear is a more intimate album that diverts from Marina’s previous work in a way that might disappoint those that appreciate her more obvious pop bangers. But as a musician and composer, she’s clearly not interested in merely filing the serial numbers off of previous outings (something other acts could learn from).
Love + Fear is out now.
Marina embarks on the second leg of her Love + Fear tour later this year with concerts on 28th Oct Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 29th Oct O2 Apollo, Manchester, 1st Nov Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff, 4th Nov Eventim Apollo, London and 5th Nov Brighton Centre.
Ticket sales begin 10am Friday 31st May 2019: https://www.seetickets.com/search?q=marina
Publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go, Wavegirl and OMD Messages.