ALBUM REVIEW: MARINA, Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land
(Editors Note: I really enjoyed this record when I first heard it because of how bombastic and peppy it is. Over time, the lyrical content has crippled it for me, with MARINA just being way too on the nose with the majority of her criticism. After giving her discography more of a listen, I'm also realizing the sound on here is mostly just more of the same. Don't hate us lol. )
Just to give a little context to my point-of-view regarding this album, I am not a Marina and The Diamonds fan by any stretch of the imagination. I was in high school during that Tumblr era where Electra Heart album covers and promotional stills were inescapable, so I’m definitely familiar with her music. “Primadonna” was a pretty hype single at the time, it still holds up, but the album just wasn’t my thing and still really isn’t. As far as Tumblr musicians go, I’m much more of a fan of people like Frank Ocean, The Weeknd and Crystal Castles. That is all to say, I had no expectations or excitement going into this album cycle, but I am pleased to say this is her best work (Editor's Note: Eh.)
On Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land, MARINA sheds “the Diamonds” and dives right into the concept with the first half of the album. The title track may be my favorite, it establishes the tone, themes and ‘80s influences with those Gary Glitter drums. She opens with “Our ancestors had to fight to survive /Just so we could have a chance of a life”, a set of lines that is about as deep as it needs to be. This is power pop at its apex, the refrain, pre-choruses and chorus all just feel like one behemoth hook, ready to eat anything in its path. It’s like a female led “Blinding Lights” in how instant it is. It gets its little jabs in about romance and identity in the context of phenomenal Earth shattering events and human history. It’s not too wordy as to make it a lecture, it’s not too dumb to make it corny, it strikes a great balance. The same cannot be said for “Man’s World”, which is so direct and on the nose that it feels like a Tumblr post from 2013. I like the weaving of historical events in there, but the lyrics are just way too unsubtle to see this song as being anything but corny.
The opening half of this album is its strongest side for sure, with the exception of “Man’s World”. Peppy and female domination anthems like “Venus Fly Trap” and the satirically political “New America” show MARIA confident, singing about broad themes with a level of experience that makes them feel impactful. The latter track is especially catchy too, nearly every chorus on this album is sung with such conviction and skill that I am dazzled, but this hooks sticks out especially, “AMERICA! AMERICA AMERICA!!!” YEAH! Fuck YEAH! When you have this much energy, you need an obligatory slow down track, and that’s “Highly Emotional People”. This is a really heartfelt ballad that actually tries to appeal to men’s emotional side, “people say men don’t cry, so much easier to just lie/‘Til somebody takes their life”. While not subtle, I really appreciate this line. MARINA is critical of men she’s dated and men in general and I can respect that point of view especially on a global scale. Moments of empathy like this really just give those other moments so much more levity, it’s just really mature songwriting that you don’t hear much these days.
“Purge The Poison” is another great track that recontextualizes old sounds (Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire”) but for the #MeToo era. This song kicks ass instrumentally, vocally and thematically, I really wish she kept this type of songwriting going into the second half of the record, where things get a little general and off-base in my opinion. Tracks like “Pandora’s Box” and “Flowers” ditch the universe warrior schtick altogether, and just go really basic with it. Before you guys yell at me in the comments, justify lyrics like “Life’s a gift, but it can also be a curse” or “If you just bought me flowers maybe I would’ve stayed”...I’ll wait. I guess I just really enjoy the grand presentation of the singles, where so-so lyrics are buried in incredible performances and dazzling instrumentals. “I Love You But I Love Me More” is a wonderful (Editor's Note: Eh.) song, it brings back the glam rock for a song about self-affirmation, it feels like the kind of song Olivia Rodrigo would pen after realizing she does have to sing about that one guy that did her dirty anymore, saving the record from diving too far into doldrum. To conclude, MARINA is back and better than ever. Some of her old habits still creep into her music to some extent, but I feel as if this ‘80s rock angle is a winner on too many tracks not to deem this album as special.