After a four-year break, and having shed the moniker ‘and the Diamonds’ in the meantime, Marina is back with her fourth studio album, the duology Love + Fear. As with her previous work, Love + Fear is an introspective journey through love and relationships. With the Love side of the album infused with a deep sense of contentment and happiness, whilst the Fear side is more anxious and capricious. Whilst her new record delivers some beguiling pop tunes and wistful ballads, Love + Fear unfortunately falls short of the more authentic and confessional music that Marina is known for.
Where in the past Marina’s vocal range and musical fluidity has been part of her appeal as an artist, her new album exhibits a heavy reliance on synth beats, occasionally to the detriment of the song. Songs like ‘You’, ‘True’ and ‘Karma’ offer little variety beyond their backing synth beats, sounding quite lacklustre and devoid of the energy that Marina brings to the rest of the album. Where the album gets more experimental, Marina’s song writing abilities are more clearly displayed. ‘Handmade Heaven’ and ‘Emotional Machine’ utilise choral elements to create ethereal vibes, whilst ‘Baby’, the Latin-inspired single co-produced with Clean Bandit and Luis Fonso of ‘Despacito’ fame, is perfect for the dance floor. Love + Fear evidently has its highs, but the stark differences of quality between the tracks make for a very uneven listening experience.
Though Marina’s newfound reliance on synth beats marks a significant departure from her previous work, the biggest change in Marina’s music after four years comes in the form of her song lyrics. In the lyrics of previous songs, she played with homonyms, put on elaborate personas and used vivid imagery. This lyrical ingenuity is largely missing in Love + Fear, where shallow phrases are repeated over and over. The most erroneous offender of this occurs in ‘Life is Strange’, where Marina sings “Seems like everybody’s having the best time of their lives/ But we don’t know what’s really going on/At any given time”. Not only do the lyrics slot in awkwardly within the song, but they also feel like a hollow mantra repeated from a self-help book. That is not to say the album is completely devoid of depth. In ‘To Be Human’, a stand-out track of Love + Fear that is reminiscent of her debut album, Marina grapples with what humanity is worth in the face of the injustices occurring around the planet. But here again she draws short of specificity, refusing to attribute the blame for human suffering to any definite cause, and thus not imbuing her song with meaning beyond the surface level.
Marina as an artist has been defined by her willingness to experiment, as someone who has never eschewed the label of ‘pop singer’ but who has also never settled for the Status Quo. It is unfortunate then how safe Love + Fear plays it, featuring many songs that are catchy enough to warrant repeat playing, but little as sharp as her previous work.
[Amelie Voges – she/her –@amelieleav]