I picked up Lorde’s full-length album Pure Heroine, mostly because I have a daughter who loves Royals. About as much as she loved Somebody I Used To Know. While I really wanted to be the one snarkmonger on the planet who didn’t mention Gotye in my Lorde review, suffice to say it’s both lazy and inaccurate to compare the two artists.
A casual listen led to a second, and a third, and next thing I knew I had it on repeat. It would be more accurate to compare Lorde to Macklemore if we’re playing the matchymatchy game with breakthrough artists. But even Macklemore had to hustle hard for over a decade just to get to where Lorde is due to land by the time she can drink legally at home in New Zealand. And I’m not just talking about commercial success. Sixteen year old Ella Yelich-O’Connor has written an album of shockingly mature songs, all by herself, if liner notes are to be believed. She is the real deal, a naturally gifted songwriter. That’s not what the reviews are saying, but the reviews are wrong.
Buzzcut Season and Still Sane are twee as fuck, and at the end of the day, this is a pop album. You can take that as that part of the package with a female member of this brand-new EDM generation, or shrug it all off as kitsch. But it’s more fun to see Lorde as one of the first artists to graduate into the real world having grown up on Kanye West, versus the previous generations’ Nirvana, and Led Zeppelin, etc.
In context, Royals isn’t one good fluke among a bunch of mediocre disc filler, as you might expect. If it stands out, aside from it being the #1 song on the radio right now, it’s by being exceptionally cute and novel in comparison to most of Pure Heroine. A little girl rap-singing about Cristal and Maybachs ironically is a pretty easy sell to top 40 radio (obviously), but that’s sweet stuff. A good album needs some nutritional value, and I was pleasantly surprised to find there’s more to Lorde than the song on the radio.
The album seethes with potential for a mushroom cloud of development over the years to come. In the opening track Tennis Court, her whip-smart lyrics could only come from someone hungry for a bite of life a thousand times the size of her body: Don’t you think it’s boring how people talk / making smart with their words again, well I’m bored… I’m doing this for the thrill of it, killin’ it, never not chasing a million things I want… Getting pumped up from the little bright things I bought… But I know they’ll never own me. This is like if Fiona Apple grew up listening to Jay-Z and Yeezy, instead of The Beatles. That last line is the key: I’m achieving everything, but I’m more than my achievements. This is an introvert’s swag.
Lorde displays a mark of a true artist in that you can see her getting tired of a gimmick before we do as listeners, and she’ll move on to something else before we even realize we were ready for it. In Team, there’s a line that an ageist might laugh at: I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air… I’m kind of older than I was when I rebelled without a care. Even taking the content at face value and ignoring that she’s young, this isn’t an artist that sits on laurels or lingers in any comfort zone for long. She’s devoured pop, she’s devoured punk, and she’s looking for something new while everyone else dwells behind. In Ribs, she sings it feels so scary getting old… And if you want to poke fun at that given her bio, go ahead, but I buy it. If you’ve been fortunate enough to know a true genius well, you may just find that kind of defiantly premature impatience familiar. Should I hedge the hyperbole and say it’s too early to call her a genius? Well, I’m not saying I know. I’m just saying I believe it.
The album closes with two of its strongest tracks, the slyly cocky battle cry White Teeth Teens, and A World Alone with its solid gold hook, a perfect pop song that’s mocking the dog and pony show every other pop song flaunts. Each is as strong as Royals, if not quite as radio-friendly, and they’re not alone in that category. At the end of the journey, a little-too-short 40 minutes, here’s what I am sure of: Ella Yelich-O’Connor is a brilliant songwriter, a born artist with talent. The status she’s been catapulted into is her job to lose. I look forward to seeing where she goes from here.
Check out Lorde’s performance on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic:
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.