Marina (FKA Marina and The Diamonds) has never been afraid of embracing her artistic talent and using her voice to shine a kaleidoscopic light on her personal struggles and views on politics and society. Throughout her career she has continually taken risks and savoured creativity, even when it didn’t come to fruition.
Her critically acclaimed debut The Family Jewels was brash, quirky and potent. There was an alarming level of unfiltered honesty as she stood firm on the Hollywood archetype, women’s role in society and unflinching accounts of heartbreak.
While her talent was on display, the unapologetic nature of the album met with the self-produced roughness adds to the experience; it wasn’t a perfect, typical pop record. Whether that was intended or a happy accident, it worked; as the eclectic mix of musical influences, strong songwriting and captivating vocals became trailblazing.
Her debut album put her name on the map, but Marina wanted a shot a stardom and on her own terms. So, she created a character and chased pop stardom with her sophomore effort Electra Heart. It was critically divisive and garnered a reaction she wasn’t prepared for. Even though she found success during that era with sales, charting and fan adoration, it was a tumultuous period for the singer/songwriter.
Three years later and after a lot of soul-searching Marina returned with Froot, a dazzling pop album more akin to her debut as it embraced a more natural, instrument driven sound. She struck gold with the right blend of thumping synths, hooks, and rock inspired anthems.
After that, she went back to Top 40 pop in the shape of Love + Fear and while there were a few standout moments, it lacked the energy and power of its predecessor.
The difference between The Family Jewels and Electra Heart is the same difference between the previous two records: the songwriting. On Electra Heart and Love + Fear she co-wrote, whereas with her debut and third album, it was written solo or at least most of it was.
So, it wasn’t a surprise when the songstress announced that her new album Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land was mainly written by herself. As she released the first two singles “Man’s World” and “Purge The Poison”, it became clear she was back to her anthemic, quirky artistic roots.
Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land is Marina Diamondis turbocharged in every sense of the word. Her sonic palette used throughout her career thus far can be found sprawled across the ten tracks.
It’s also an album of two halves, both in sound and lyrical content. Up until “Pandora’s Box”, Marina employs the psychedelic rock meets dream pop formula, where she takes a stab at society and the world today. It’s fast-paced, rhythmic, and enjoyable as she dazzles with vast, rich soundscapes and razor-sharp lyricism.
This is made abundantly clear as Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land boldly begins with the title track and third single from the singer’s fifth record.
The departure from Love + Fear is immediately evident as the title track is heavily influenced by 70s psychedelic rock and indie pop, featuring carnival like synths, unbridled drums, and Tame Impala-esque guitar lines which flicker between. The album’s opener is a statement of intent and quite possibly her strongest beginning in her career so far.
The following track “Venus Fly Trap” continues the heavily focused rock sound which features sharp wit, velvet vocals and a stupidly catchy piano and crunchy guitar combo. It’s the right balance of groove and sparkle with enough substance behind it to stop it feeling shallow.
Then come’s the aforementioned “Man’s World” and “Purge The Poison”, while the former is instrumentally and vocally beautiful, “Purge The Poison” is where the riotous fun can be found. Very much like the opening track its centred around fierce guitars, punchy drums, and hypnotic vocals. It’s bridge and chorus are up there with some of the best this year.
Lyrically it features one of my favourite opening lines “All my friends are witches, and we live in Hollywood / Mystical b*tches making our own sisterhood“, which highlights everything I enjoy about Marina, along with the lyrics found in the third verse which are poetic.
Then the tables are turned as “Highly Emotional People” follows, featuring a touching chorus delivered with angelic vocals. Even though it’s relatively simplistic in terms of structure, its climax is a pop spectacle as synths surge while Marina’s vocals echo and soothe.
And before you can click your fingers, the momentum begins again with “New America”, a steely, dramatic anthem aimed at America’s failings. After “New America” the album’s tone shifts as the latter half of the album is cinematic, stripped back and more sombre. Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land begins with anthems and ends with ballads, and somehow it works.
The strongest of the ballads is “I Love You But I Love Me More”, an American blues rock n’ roll number drenched in a dreamy, Californian haze. The guitars evoke Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence, and there’s a definite desert rock vibe to it.
Marina closes out her fifth album with two more traditional ballads. While they’re expressive and enjoyable, they don’t burn as brightly as previous tracks and though it’s a cohesive finish; it would’ve been interesting to see how far she could’ve taken the psychedelic, dream pop sound.
When all is said and done, it’s hard to place Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land within her discography. Undoubtedly, it’s one of her strongest albums to date. Marina hasn’t been this musically passionate and creative since Froot and it shows. Her fifth album is full of life and is unquestionably one of the better pop albums to be released this year.
Call Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land what you like, a reset, a reimagining, or a rebirth; either way it’s something to be admired, enjoyed, and remembered for its artistic flair and fun.
Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land, the fifth studio album from Marina is out now via Atlantic, stream it on Spotify below and purchase it here.
Words by Jake Gould