Review: Lorde - Pure Heroine

To call Lorde's rise stratospheric would be underselling it.

opinion by ADAM OFFITZER

Just when we thought we had the modern music industry all figured out, Lorde comes along and flips the conventional wisdom on its head.

Yes, we’ve seen artists with similar stories before, building word-of-mouth buzz from the strength of a simple EP, eventually developing a cult following and critical acclaim before ever releasing an album (Vampire Weekend, Passion Pit, Lana Del Rey and Macklemore all come to mind).

To call her rise stratospheric would be underselling it.

But Lorde’s leap has been something else entirely. Take a look at the top five songs streaming on Spotify right now: tracks from Miley Cyrus, Avicii, Drake, Katy Perry…and Lorde, sitting proudly at number two, right below an image of a particularly risqué “Wrecking Ball.”

That’s right – a 16 year-old New Zealander, who initially released her five-song EP for free in November 2012, is at the top of the charts with some of the biggest names in pop music from this decade. To call her rise stratospheric would be underselling it.

And yet, give one listen to her debut EP and it all makes sense. With The Love Club, Lorde found a way to make music that is entirely of the moment – a new sound that fuses futuristic production, bubbly vocals, and lyrical maturity while meshing traditional pop and hip-hop sensibilities.

On her debut album, Pure Heroine, Lorde sticks with the structural device that helped make “Royals” such a huge hit, the device that dominated and defined her wonderful EP: a strong, unrelenting beat.

It’s no surprise that the album’s best songs are the bangers.

There is a literal pulse running through this album. A steady, digitized drumbeat that ranges in tone from the head-banging bounce of hard-hitting hip-hop to the soft, driving build of an indie rock stomp-along. The percussion is always shapeshifting, never taking center stage but always creeping around in the background, giving the record a fierce sense of urgency and groove. The music becomes hypnotic, with stacked vocals and layered synths that beg your eyes to close and your head to nod.

So it’s no surprise that the album’s best songs are the bangers (not Bangerz, mind you). Lorde seems to recognize this herself, too, spreading out the most head-bopping jams throughout the record. “Tennis Court” starts things off, with heavy synthesizers, booming bass and a gleeful swagger that alternates between self-conscious hesitance and self-assured bravado. “Royals” comes in as the third track, sounding fresh and catchy as ever, tailored for summer night car rides with the windows down.

The entire album flows with an effortless feel.

“Team,” which comes around the halfway point of the album, is another jam, with a hip-hop beat and another atmospheric anthem of a chorus: “We live in cities you’ll never see on screen, not very pretty but we sure know how to run things.” It’s a strikingly similar statement to the “Royals” chorus: “We’ll never be royals, it don’t run in our blood, that kind of luxe just ain’t for us, we crave a different kind of buzz.” Lorde likes to point this out – she wants to “run things,” she wants to “be your ruler,” but not with the extravagant, fancy life that traditional pop stars demand.

The entire album flows with an effortless feel – a natural result of the low-key production and the restrained singing style that Lorde uses. In fact, Lorde likes to brag about how easy it is for her to make music: “Making smart with the words again? Well, I’m bored,” she casually boasts on “Tennis Court.”

Unfortunately, this effortless feel is what keeps Pure Heroine from greatness. Too many songs wind along without any significant build. “Ribs” and “Buzzcut Season,” sandwiched between “Royals” and “Team,” are paired together with similar styles –slower, driving beats, building but going nowhere in particular. The choruses are dark and cold, better for a tired, late night alone than a windows-down group sing-along. That’s okay – we shouldn’t expect all of Lorde’s music to sound like “Royals” – but too many songs with the same stacked vocals, hypnotic percussion, and synthesized production can make for a repetitive listen.

Fortunately, by the end of the album, Lorde mixes it up a bit. “White Teeth Teens” is an upbeat and energetic gem that bounces along with the bright, cheerful chords of an early Vampire Weekend track. Album closer “A World Alone” is expansive, a departure from the isolated production of the rest of Pure Heroine. It opens without any semblance of a beat, before building into a spirited finish that perfectly sums up the tone of the album – “you’re my best friend and we’re dancing in the world alone.”

On “Royals,” Lorde claims that “it’s a new art form, showing people how little we care.” But let’s be honest – that art form has been around for years. The real new art form that comes out of “Royals,” and Pure Heroine’s best tracks, is a new style of pop songwriting. By combining massive sing-along hooks with airy, computerized beeps-and-blips, and by combining Lorde’s warm, bubbly vocals with the icy cool ambience of the music, these tracks create a unique and endearing listen, a new kind of 21st century pop song.

“People are talking, people are talking,” Lorde tells us at the end of “A World Alone.” She’s right – music fans are talking about her, a lot. And while it’s no masterpiece, Pure Heroine is unique and engaging enough to keep the conversation going. [B]

Lorde - Pure Heroine tracklist
01 Tennis Court
02 400 Lux
03 Royals
04 Ribs
05 Buzzcut Season
06 Team
07 Glory And Gore
08 Still Sane
09 White Teeth Teens
10 A World Alone