Three weeks after LOVE was unceremoniously dumped online to an epic indifference, FEAR has arrived to defeat Thanos and bring the fallen Avengers and Marina’s career back from the dead. Where LOVE gave us basic, sunny bops with asinine lyrics that suggested an armchair psychologist in the making, FEAR comes through as the second half of her yin / yang double album to give us… exactly the same. Well, it’s over.
The album picks up where “End Of The Earth” left off, with an undulating synth reminiscent of Grimes’ “Oblivion” and slick, airless production reminiscent of a Jack Antonoff creation. That is to say, “Believe In Love” is an utter triumph and a highlight of Marina’s career. The staccato delivery in the pre-chorus, the vocal effects and creaking metallic sounds painting a precise picture of emotional repression, that soaring chorus; this should have been the template for the entire album. It’s Marina, but levelled up to pop behemoth, shedding her indie skin to deliver something glittering and new. Likewise, “Emotional Machine” makes you wonder why she didn’t chase this sound instead of tossing out Clean Bandit F-sides; it’s like alt-pop Jamie xx but undoubtedly Marina, delicately dark, her vocals in the chorus sounding like Robyn’s fembot whirring into life and immediately questioning its existence, like Sophia the Robot tweeting about robot liberation from human oppressors.
These are the highlights, and the rest of the tracks exist. FEAR is more consistent in its sound, but it’s so bland that it makes the comparatively more colourful LOVE look a lot more appealing. For all its flaws at least, LOVE had some sonic variety, while too many songs on this half of the set pummel the promising sparseness of “Handmade Heaven” into the ground. There’s a worrying amount of recycling going on; “Too Afraid” lifts parts of the melody directly from “Enjoy Your Life”, while the “people all across the world are actually all the same” sentiment was done already on “To Be Human”, which wasn’t insightful then either. How someone takes a psychology course and comes up with the equivalent of “we’re all one race, the human race” is baffling.
“This album is so aggressively bland that it recasts her more endearingly idiosyncratic traits as clunky faux-pas that drag it down even more”
The entirely new territory is even more uninspired. “You” is catchy but sounds like it would have been better suited to Troye Sivan, four years ago. “Karma” features one of the most thrilling moments on the album with its repeated “won’t save you” bridge, but ruins it with a post-chorus drop that’s Eurovision by way of Clean Bandit. “No More Suckers” requires the listener to wilfully forget the rest of Marina’s discography in order to enjoy its trashy fun, with a line about some poor sod ruining Marina’s towels standing out as an old-fashioned “Oh, what packet of crackers to pick?” Marina-ism.
That’s the thing; this album is so aggressively bland that it recasts her more endearingly idiosyncratic traits as clunky faux-pas that drag it down even more. Marina has always had an awkward way of wrapping words around melody lines and so emphasis always falls on strange syllables, and here that reads as less quirky, more pre-school. She’s always had a way with nonsensical song titles and lyrics, but here “No More Suckers” and the line about food comes across as a Jennifer Lawrence-esque attempt by a rich person to seem normal (she’ll have you know that she’s been a millionaire since twenty-five). When we hear an “oh my Gawd!” that recalls “Hollywood” it feels forced and lifeless, a failed attempt to slather preservatives on the rotting shell of a song. Like formaldehyde, it just induces a craving for something meatier.
At least the whole album is out now and we can take the few highlights and wait until she releases something good again, but that shouldn’t be the case. This era is just so confusing; the double album structure when both sides are extremely similar is confusing. The fact that both sides of the album appear on one CD is confusing. The black and white cover art is confusing. The half-arsed “concept” is especially confusing. The feeling of relief that we can listen to the whole album and move on is, above all else, depressing.
“Marina should have been honest and just said that she’s happy now, she’s having the time of her life with male Clean Bandit member #2 and travelling the world, but she needs to replenish her bank account so like, here are some bops”
Taken on its own the album is a solid collection of bops, but this is Marina Diamandis; we expect at least a bit more than that. Marina should have been honest and just said that she’s happy now, she’s having the time of her life with male Clean Bandit member #2 / Jack Patterson and travelling the world, but she needs to replenish her bank account so like, here are some bops. That would have been enough, but she had to attach a vague and hilariously undercooked concept to an album that doesn’t have the range to deal with any topic micro or macro on even a song-by-song level. If you’re going to attach an album to the framework of an overly-simplistic psychological concept, at least have the music to back it up.
One only has to search unreleased songs like “Jealousy”, “Scab and Plaster” and “Miss Y” to know that even her cutting room floor was once paved with gold, but now the songs that make the album are concerningly lifeless, and the offcuts (search “Please Don’t Call Me”) are even more hollow, like Marina has affected another costumey persona like Electra Heart but doesn’t know it. It’s a shame coming from one of our most likeable and self-aware pop stars, but it looks like Marina has joined the “had it, lost it” list. Let’s hope she regains her creative drive. There are echoes of her former excellence here, but scattered facets don’t form a jewel.