Review: All Peel and No Pith

Marina and the Diamonds' new album FROOT is long on time but short on fun.

opinion byJEAN-LUC MARSH

I'll be frank: I am a huge fan of Marina and the Diamonds. With a stellar track record consisting of two fantastic albums on opposite ends of the pop spectrum (the quirky The Family Jewels and populist radio smash Electra Heart), I figured that Marina Diamandis had her finger on the music’s world pulse, gauging what the people were ready for and aiming straight for the jugular.

In 2012, Diamandis was catapulted unexpectedly into the mainstream via Electra Heart, the antithesis to a sophomore slump, climbing from a staple of indie kid pale blogs to a number one album in her home country. She was poised to reign as UK indie-pop’s queen for the foreseeable future, even bringing exposure to other artists like Charli XCX, who would trace her footsteps (and ultimately inherit her crown). Nevertheless, Electra Heart was a construct and a concept, a character Diamandis had invented as a vehicle for some convoluted societal criticism that no one really cared to understand when they could dance instead. Electra Heart — the character, that is — escaped outside of Diamandis’ control, and within a year and a half, she killed off the persona altogether and retreated from the limelight.

In light of that saga, it seemed unlikely that Diamandis would return directly to the mainstream pop arena in spite of its obvious commercial cachet. Enter “Froot,” the lead single off Diamandis’ third record bearing the same name (albeit completely capitalized), in late 2014. “Marina is back!” it seemed to proclaim, oozing promise with its guitar licks and earworm chorus. Having taken some hints from 2013’s dalliances with disco, the track flirted with the dance floor, seeming lithe and limber despite extending over five minutes in length. It felt like an encapsulation of all that Diamandis had accomplished so far: the pop sensibilities of Electra Heart combined with the lovable quirks of The Family Jewels; in short, a capstone, an explanation of what she might have been trying to convey all along.

marina and the diamonds froot-min

The next few singles, “Happy,” “Immortal,” and “I’m a Ruin,” hinted more concretely at the true direction FROOT would take, but instilled hope by confirming that Diamandis’ talents for balladry and constructing some of the most melodramatic crescendos in the industry had not diminished in the inter-album period. Diamandis does indeed go back to basics on the peculiarly-titled FROOT (whose word choice or spelling never really get a satisfactory explanation), but what is in essence the companion album to The Family Jewels eschews nearly all the idiosyncratic fun of its sonic predecessor. Taken with its overstuffed and neutered nature in comparison to Electra Heart, FROOT is long on time but short on fun, all peel and no pith.

The initial singles remain among the best material to be found on the album. “Blue” is good fun, a jaunty number that sees Diamandis’ facing the aftermath of her break up head-on and rallying to regain happiness. “Forget” stands out as well, endowed with a soaring sing-along chorus and a lovely bridge that makes the most of Diamandis’ mezzo-soprano range. The remainder of the album is filler, not terrible by any means, but entirely indistinguishable. “Gold,” “Solitaire,” and “Weeds” all sounds like variations of one another. The pugilistic “Can’t Pin Me Down” earns points for being the only song on the entire albums for clocking in under four minutes. “Better Than That” and “Savages” both sound like rejects from The Family Jewels.

In the end, FROOT emerges from its bloated fifty-minute run an adequate, yet unoriginal album. For another artist that would be a decent effort, but for someone like Diamandis, who has proven her capability for much better material, her third album is a disappointment, an awkward #tbt that overstays its welcome and never really returns to the present day. There are highlights, sure, but one will not find anything of the same intellectual caliber as “Numb,” “Shampain,” or “Hollywood” on FROOT, let alone a potential banger like “How to Be a Heartbreaker.” This is Diamandis’ break-up album in more ways than the romantic sense. She also severs ties with popular expectation, and the end result is regressive rather than revolutionary. C