Album Review: Marina and the Diamonds – The Family Jewels

By on Thursday, 18th February 2010 at 12:00 pm
 

There Goes The Fear have been avid supporters of Marina and the Diamonds ever since we first introduced her last February. Back then, Marina was pitched pretty low on musical radars. One year on, however, and Miss. Diamandis has signed to the big-wigs at Warner, and is releasing her debut album, ‘The Family Jewels‘, upon the country on Monday (22nd February). Not bad progress for 12 months, huh?

You only have to glaze your eyes over the numerous song titles on the back of the upcoming CD (‘Shampain’, ‘Hermit the Frog’, ‘Mowgli’s Road’, ‘Oh No!’), to realise that this is going to be a, well, quirky, journey of an album. So, cup of tea in hand, we all gathered around the record player to have a listen to this glittery serving from one of 2010’s biggest tipped artists.

One thing we love about Marina here at TGTF is her absolute brilliance when it comes to making quirky electro pop. This is reflected in a number of tracks on the album which you may have already heard floating around cyberspace. ‘Mowgli’s Road’ is a particularly colourful number, filled with animalistic “Coo coos!”, tribal percussion and cutlery-based lyrics (“Ten silver spoons coming after me!”). Yes, this terrifically catchy tune is exactly what Alice in Wonderland and Jungle Book would sound like if they were mixed into some amazing musical recipe. Similarly, ‘Hollywood’ – the song which has perhaps gained Marina the most radio-play – is destined for dancefloors. The sparkling synths and cliché American images provoked by the candy lyrics add to the pop monster that is the chorus of the track (believe me, you won’t be able to dislodge the hook that is “I’m obsessed with the mess that’s America!” once it’s in your brain).

Marina is also pretty great at taking the speed down a little. ‘Obsessions’, for example, is a truly heartfelt number, the passion particularly reflected in Diamandis’ emotive voice. The delightful “ba ba ba” breakdown midway adds a further hint of glitter and the final harmonies awash over one another perfectly come the end. Likewise, ‘I Am Not a Robot’ tugs at the heartstrings with it’s hopscotch piano and wispy strings, and showcases some of the best lyrics on the album while it’s at it (“You’re vulnerable, you’re vulnerable. You are not a robot! You’re loveable, so loveable, but you’re just troubled”). ‘Rootless’, meanwhile, is another slower paced track amid the album. Despite the carousel synths tinkling away in the distance, this tune protrudes with a noticeably sinister sound, which is really rather enjoyable amid the sugary pop of the rest of the album. Certainly a highlight.

As you may have noticed, four out of five of those tracks I have just discussed have already been put out by Marina’s lot as singles. Sadly, they do turn out to be the highlights of the record – the rest of ‘The Family Jewels’ ultimately drags quite a bit, and is admittedly not up to scratch like I would have hoped.

‘The Outsider’ sticks out as being one of the worst tracks on the album. There’s nothing captivating about this track. It’s too cutty and ‘all over the place’ – the chorus proving particularly annoying with it’s repeating of “Inside the outsider (on my own again)”. Meanwhile, the unrelenting ‘Oh No!’ is a poppy mash of playground vocals – over-acted and too sickly to bear at points.

‘Hermit the Frog’ is evidence of how Marina’s voice can begin to grate. It’s around this point in the album you begin to realise that Diamandis uses the same vocal tricks (powerful and operatic, to comedic and characteristic, to light and fluffy) throughout the record. If you like your Mika, you’ll probably enjoy the magical instrumentals and “dum dum dums” of this track, but if you don’t, you might consider the song a little, well, childish. Meanwhile, despite it’s pleasantness, the string concoction of a ballad that is ‘Numb’ basically sounds like ‘I Am Not a Robot’ ripped up and stuck back together a little different.

And that is certainly one of the major criticisms I’d point out about this album. Marina doesn’t innovate much when it comes to her sound, which is why ‘The Family Jewels’ may prove a little hard going. Which is a shame, as when it comes to the sole singles, Marina is clearly a brilliant electro pop artist who’ll no doubt gain a huge following with her inescapable hooks. But to me, this Diamond is better listened to in short bursts, as a whole album risks ruining her quirky sound. Stretched over 13 tracks, the same techniques start to resonate throughout, and it can all begin to tire by the end, particularly her voice. But don’t get me wrong, I am quite bummed about this, as prior to hearing the album, I was really all out for Marina. And I still am, as I know she has the ability to be awesome. She already is! There are many great tracks among this album. There’s just another fair amount which let it down. But hey, I still think she’s a million times cooler than Florence (so pow!).

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We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

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