“I’m 19 and I’m on fire!” sings Lorde on ‘Perfect Places’, ‘Melodrama’’s finale, summarising succinctly the preceding 40 minutes of glee and insecurity, passion and paranoia: on her second album, she seeks to articulate the unbearable emotional heaviness of being on the brink of adulthood, and of all the yearning, identity crises and self-examination that that entails. That she manages it with sincerity despite her status as an established global pop star success story, with triumphalism despite being so audibly let down by the reality, and with authority despite still not having completed the journey herself is what makes ‘Melodrama’ such a compelling experience. That the album sounds so uplifting and intoxicating on top of that is a joy.
Perhaps ‘Melodrama’’s biggest virtue is that despite the breakups and comedowns, the album never wallows. Even at its saddest, on the twin torch songs of ‘Liability’ (a continuation of the train of thought begun by Taylor Swift on ‘Blank Space’) and ‘Writer In The Dark’ (in which Lorde’s Kate Bush adoration blooms fully), the confessions are made with a gentle self-acceptance and mental fortitude that elevates them above mere mopey ballads. During the more anthemic moments, too, Lorde majors on the sheer exhilaration that’s concomitant with calamity: on ‘Sober’ there’s “sparkling” shattered glass, and the messily broken relationship on ‘Supercut’, cleverly reimagined as an Instagram-friendly minute-long highlights reel, is “wild and fluorescent”. Three separate songs examine the frightening electricity induced by kissing someone for the first time, but any overwrought teen angst is dispelled each time by a simultaneous revelling at the sheer electric thrill of being young and alive. It’s addictive: on ‘Melodrama’, Lorde embraces the butterflies in her stomach and transposes that feeling into empowerment.
Musically, too, ‘Melodrama’ basks in its own self-determination: Max Martin, the songwriting Midas behind more number ones than anyone else this century, declared ‘Green Light’ to be “incorrect songwriting”, and you can see why. After all, it drags just when it should drop, but therein lies its appeal. Equally, the final 90 seconds of both ‘Loveless’ and ‘Supercut’, in which long fade-outs plunge into embattled underwater meditations, make for pleasingly distinctive pauses in an otherwise rather maximalist album. Even Lorde’s newfound Bronx accent, seemingly in thrall to Regina Spektor’s semi-spoken vocalisations and acrobatics, reveals a brand of idiosyncrasy that feels uncommon among her peers.
The rest of ‘Perfect Places’ combines an exasperated wail at the unjust realities of youthful hedonism – the realisation that no matter how flamboyant the excess, true euphoria often lies just out of grasp – with a defiant, inclusive relief at finally accepting those injustices. There’s a horribly bored description of casual sex laced with the implication that the only reason to go out is that it prevents you being at home, alone with your own thoughts, and yet all the same, the album closer feels less like a downer and more just a wonderfully zen, cathartically self-aware status update.
A record with a personality as pungent as ‘Melodrama’ almost seems to come with a manifesto: it wants to tell you that your youth is your actual life, and everything afterwards is just a commemoration of it. Sure, that’s a seductive proposition to those nearing the end of adolescence, but perhaps even more irresistible are the nostalgic tingles of recognition it prompts in people, such as the present writer, nearly twice her age. Yes, it seems to be saying, the technicolour emotional palette of love then heartbreak, of regret then lessons learned, and of self-denial then introspection is almost blinding in its vibrancy. But for all life’s dark lows, other times it burns so joyously bright, and sometimes it happens all at once: oh, it screams, to be 19 and on fire again.