Marina: Love+Fear review – An album of two halves, where fear conquers love
They say that a change is as good as a rest – and Marina Diamandis has taken both in recent years. After the tour in support of her well-received third album, Froot, wound down in 2016, the Welsh native temporarily stepped away from the limelight, recently admitting that she had had “a tricky three or four years” during which she contemplated her future as a pop star.
The “change’ aspect has largely materialised in the form of her shortened nom de guerre. Formerly known as Marina and the Diamonds (hold the Diamonds are Forever/A Girl’s Best Friend jokes, please) and now simply as Marina, that cull was a result of the revelation that her identity was overly entangled with her artistic persona.
On paper, it sounds like Diamandis’s fourth album heralds a reinvention or rebirth of-sorts, but that’s only partly true; her decade-long career has seen the 33-year-old star established as a stalwart of the pop scene, darting breezily from one ambitious project to the next – be it 2012’s character-based concept album Electra Heart or the aforementioned synthpop-with-heart of Froot, the first album to break her properly in the US.
Her versatile career has outlasted one-time peers like La Roux and Little Boots, and arguably helped to pave the way for the new generation of young pop stars who are currently blazing a trail through the pop firmament (Dua Lipa et al would no doubt he horrified, baffled or bemused to learn that the first Marina and the Diamonds EP was released through MySpace).
As you may have guessed, this is an album of two parts. Love, intended to be an “uplifting and empowering” set, wastes no time in living up to its title, from Superstar’s gushing admission that it’s “So impossible to dream when you’re far away from me”, to the blissful love affair conjured by the infectious summer groove of Orange Trees.
There’s a poison pen snarl to these songs
These kind of songs are the more purposely frivolous thrust of Diamandis’s canon; high-end, pristine production, booming synth lines and beat-driven ballads.
Her previously-released collaboration with Clean Bandit and Despacito singer Luis Fonsi, Baby, is the kind of fluffy-but-forgettable song that you absent-mindedly bring home from a week in Marbella, although Enjoy Your Life, with its undeniable homage to 1980s-era Madonna, fulfils the “uplifting” part of the set’s remit. By comparison, To Be Human takes a turn toward introspection as she ponders the meaning of life over a wistful piano-led beat.
The second set, Fear, continues down that same path and is unquestionably the more interesting group of songs here. This is Marina at her most vulnerable, readily disclosing her own insecurities on Believe in Love (“Why is what you give never enough? Losing you is what I’m afraid of”), while the slow glitzy throb of Too Afraid plays like a diary entry, with the grudging admission that she “hate[s] this city, but I stay cos of you”.
Yet there’s a poison pen snarl to these songs, too, as heard on the robotic You and the thrilling no-nonsense kiss-off of No More Suckers (“Put a stop sign up, you’re not getting any nearer/Wave goodbye to the suckers in my rearview mirror”), while the considered Emotional Machine is one of her best songs to date, expertly balancing emotional depth with that inherent sense of melody that has informed all of her work to date.
This is very much an album of two halves; Love’s comparatively superficial pomp doesn’t always hit the mark, but the intriguing Fear suggests that whatever comes next for Marina may involve further soul-searching intensity. Even without her titular Diamonds, however, her pop sparkle remains intact.