MARINA’s ‘Love + Fear’ is replete with house and Latin dance to beef up an otherwise austere black and silver musicality.
Listen: “LOVE + FEAR” – MARINA
“There are only two emotions: love and fear. All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear. From love flows happiness, contentment, peace, and joy. From fear comes anger, hate, anxiety and guilt.“
– Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying
Marina Diamandis is as basic as it gets.
On the cover of Love + Fear, she plays in dualities. Her skin, pearly white. Her hair, jet black. Her shoulders, borne bare. All else, hidden from sight. Her name, big, all-caps. Album title, small but capped too. Diamonds no longer form her postscript. But earrings befitting noblesse adorn her neck. An uproaring visual reversal of her polychromatic FROOT salad tour, she’s as stripped down as it gets — Bat for Lashes must have been giving her some major tips — but she’s still all royalty; some might say Cleopatra, some might say Salammbô, stripped down to nothing but form and naught but a jewel — hardly the headpiece of a pharaoh nor the veil of an empress—that no poor Mathô should care, her naked image should enough to stain his mind as he continues to stare. She has mastered the modern art of the Lady Gaga-esque “Queen.”
Yas, yas and yas, all the much and many-maligned yassss’ to trumpet her entry on the scene, Marina Diamandis’ (dit MARINA) fourth effort, a double album (or as she calls it, a set) split into two collections devoted to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ theories on human emotional capacity, Love and Fear, aims big on a conceptual front; there’s much to be said about the effects of either emotion on a person’s psyche and there’s potential to analyze mental and social blocks on either side, perhaps interpolating tracks together to mesh the give and take of either (nope), maybe clever wordplay to meta-reference the events put forth in the record (nope again) or even pulling a trick from Seventies auteurs and crafting a cyclical long-player that replaces listeners right where they came in (nope a third time).
Certainly, a four-year hiatus necessitates a songwriter shift and a sense of adaptation to popular music metamorphoses—anything other would constitute static creativity, the slowest of public death sentences and Diamandis manages one of these; her record is replete with house and latin dance to beef up the otherwise austere black and silver musicality. Hers is now a marque in silver and black; elegant and exacting, but not exactly luscious full flavour. Diamandis’ production staff, Sam de Jong, Captain Cuts and Oscar Holter among others, is a cross section of EDM heads more than capable to cultivate a melodic, rhythmic back up to the crazier ideas MARINA might have saved up.
But she didn’t change anything about her songwriting approach. Her team had no underlying conceptual weave; just a bunch of half-hearted sleights of hand and as it stands, I prefer Marina to her all-caps persona-but-not.
Trick yourself all damn day with the better moments on this record (“Handmade Heaven,” “Orange Trees,” “Enjoy Your Life,” “You,” and “Karma” are just too damnably infectious) but don’t run from the truth, topical and sheen and airbrushed: This album fails spectacularly to live up to its conceptual background by a production too pitch perfect and factory-pressed to render unto us nothing but copies of LOVE+FEAR under the many different queenly pseudonyms, selling and reselling vaguely dancehall single collections masquerading as albums, double or otherwise.
And believe yourself all you want when as lie behind teeth that Marina is actually singing a damn thing about terror or anxiety for most of FEAR — sure, her wheelhouse has always been barbing love, jealousy and cold fury, but love can wear out faster than that under armour rash of metal jacket fury and she just can’t write either with much subtelty — perfect for those “powerful” moments: “Handmade Heaven,” “Orange Trees” (probably the most colourful cut on record despite its lo-fi instagram filter), “Baby,” “Enjoy Your Life,” “True,” and “Soft To Be Strong” all do fine with this because the subject matter doesn’t require specificity.
But by the fourth record, it would be remiss not to expect a little something more. The aforementioned tracks could work as lead-singles for a fresh face, but wade into the deeper cuts and realize MARINA only likes the water up to her knees. “You” is confused as hell, “Superstar,’ “Believe in Love” and “Emotional Machine” fall for pastiche — common problems birthing common poetry — and “Karma” needs more than vague menacing while “You” sounds more like a pity song, “Life is Strange” forays into flailing anxiety and for whatever angle of Fear “Soft To Be Strong” is supposed to convey, we’re also given Marina’s voice unaided for half a track so I’ll take it, even if I don’t love it.
But compare to an original queen, when I listen to Whitney Houston (if ever there were one), I want to hear how she needs (forget about wanting) somebody to dance with her just from the careening, catapulting elastic power of her voice vacillating from soft to loud with ease, explaining the sheer direness of her situation, supported by and exploding with Narada Michael Walden’s synthesizer motifs to blow us all away. Vocal musicians have a right to be good without being overtly intellectual. But they also need people who know how to work with a voice without fucking with it.
When I listen to MARINA on “Believe in Love,” her whisper vocals have but clicks and some bass-ridden heartbeats as musical foils. Further, they don’t amount to any change within the song; they’re just there. What shit foils. The most interesting part of the song is the keyboard that only makes itself felt behind MARINA in the chorus and the denoument. Sure it appears in the verses too, but there they languish without stakes. I don’t want to hear the reverbing MARINA bleats on about the power of love. Contrast the MARINA on “Believe in Love” with the Marina on “Life Is Strange,” which uses violins to denote a difference between chorus and verse, that rises with the action, or the percussion programming that changes from pitter-patter snare patterns on the verses to snappy snare clicks on the chorus, mimicking her climaxes and denouments to great effect.
Granted, this is also one of the songs where Marina’s voice is left the fuck alone. I want to hear that. That thing can carry songs; the little vocoder “yoouu (yooouuu)’s”are a nice touch, sure, but little garnishes that should remain so because when her chords hit those peaks unaided, well, I don’t think there’s a more beautiful sound in the music business. Marina has that much right.
However, it’s all moot, I’m just tired of this all-encompassing and swallowsome dance genre surrounding Marina Diamindis; tired of hearing people gorge upon her voice coated in technophile garbage; even on FROOT, when David Kosten gave her the juice, his better instinct was to limit everything to just that reverb, and it was still too much.
Marina’s range is incredible and the people around her barely use its naked power; half of what makes a vocalist worth listening to is their ability to wrap you into their world and their problems just based on that power. Either the people around Marina just aren’t smart enough to hand her the mic and get the hell out of her way, or they aren’t smart enough to remind that she need only sing.
If MARINA really wants to convince us of her stripped image, then getting rid of nearly all these elements of vocal manipulation besides what she herself can produce in a raw format is the only place to start. Anything else is just a criminal makeup job posing as back-to-basics cosmetics keen to reel in suckers.
And I may be a poor Mathô, but I ain’t no sucker.
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📸 © Zoey Grossman