The Top 50 Albums of 2010… ALBUM OF THE YEAR: #01 Marina & the Diamonds “The Family Jewels”
01. MARINA & THE DIAMONDS “The Family Jewels”
Welcome to The Family Jewels; an album dripping with breathtaking drive, sheer ambition, steely-determination, extreme insecurity and a truly captivating amount of self-doubt and self-assurance. This is the warped and intelligently nervous musical mind of Marina Diamandis, the most arresting pop-star of 2010.
It’s difficult to pin-point exactly what genre Diamandis’ debut falls under because it hops around from track-to-track. It’s still ultimately pop, but there’s strong elements of a white Grace Jones (had she found a honkytonk piano,) or the lyrical genius of Kate Bush – had it been visually fronted by a blossoming Madonna circa-1985. Marina’s own lyrical smarts is what tips this record over the edge of all the others in 2010. Sure, the year was filled with albums whose lyrical content were certainly of a personal level, but perhaps none more intricately as “The Family Jewels.”
Have you ever had a complete nervous breakdown when shopping in a supermarket? You might laugh at the mere suggestion of it, but for those of us who have, hearing Diamandis freak-out via song (the incredible “Obsessions”) as she tries to figure out what packet of crackers to pick (“They’re all the same, one brand, one name – but really they’re not! Look, look, just choose something – quick – people are staring, skin is on fire.”) proved to be a not only reassuring, but an incredibly satisfying – and somewhat cathartic – moment in popular music. In fact, “Obsessions” is just one of many moments on The Family Jewels that exemplifies how finely astute Diamandis is when it comes to giving us something on a deeper lyrical level, the kind we haven’t really heard before from a pop star. Nobody’s singing about freaking out in a supermarket, but more people probably should.
The turmoils of love get a bit of a workout on The Family Jewels, particularly on the preciously magnetic “I Am Not A Robot,” in which Diamandis sings to the songs subject; “Never committing to anything, you don’t pick up the phone when it ring-ring-rings. Don’t be so pathetic; just open up and sing,” before asking them to teach her how to feel, “real.” Although there’s not much heartbreak on Jewels, it does appear in patches across the record, appearing on the aforementioned “Obsessions” sporadically as well.
Essentially though, Jewels is more a collection of work that represents an outsider – or, at least, somebody who feels they are an outsider – and the sometimes neurotic thoughts that fill their mind. On album opener “Are You Satisfied?”, Marina expresses, dead-pan, “It’s my problem if I feel the need to hide, and it’s problem if I have no friends and feel I want to die,” before proclaiming “Do I need to lie, to make my way in life?” The themes of being an outsider looking in tie-up incredibly well with Marina’s themes of fame, success and achieving her goal – to ultimately be one of the greatest female pop stars of her generation. “It’s not my problem if you don’t see what I see. My problem is, my problem – that I never am happy, it’s my problem, it’s my problem – on how fast I will succeed.” Everything about Marina is on glorious display on this record; from the superbly produced music to the fantastic lyrics that offer up doses of self-imposed guilt (“Guilty on the run/and I know what I have done/Guilty on the run/and I’m never forgiven/I was just a kid and all I really wanted was my Father,”), Self-parody (“I’m now becoming my own self-fullfilled prophecy”), cheekily comedic realisation and self-doubt (“I’m gonna live! I’m gonna fly! I’m gonna fail! I’m gonna die!”), perfectly executed pseudo-put-downs (“They call him Hermit the Frog. He’s looking for a Dog. Did you find your bitch in me? Oh you’re abominable socially. You’re just a little bit too much like me) and one of the years best one-liners (“Won’t you quit your crying? I can’t sleep.”)
Looking at the title of “Shampain” alone shows just how clever Marina is. Not only is it the one of the absolute pop Singles of the Year, its title serves as finely-attuned social commentary on the “fabricated world” she sings of in the track, as she necks an entire bottle of bubbly at a wedding to herself. The title got a fair bit of flack in a number of reviews when the record came out at the beginning of the year, but looking a little deeper into it tells you more about Marina’s views of our world and the somewhat hot-topic of consumerism; points that most didn’t bother to acknowledge or couldn’t pick up on. There’s also the genius of “Oh No!” to consider, in which Marina – without batting an eyelid – sings the line of the year, “TV taught me how to feel, now real life has no appeal.” Well; quite. There’s also the superb “Hollywood”, in which Marina admits to “puking American dreams,” before cheekily cooing “I’m obsessed with the mess that’s America.”
“The Outsider” is a three and a half minute exercise into placing yourself in a crowded room and feeling like you’re the only Elephant amongst a party of humans. Equally so, it’s sort-of the perfect example of Marina being the anti-Gaga of postmodern pop music. While GaGa’s calling upon her fans as being the outsiders of the world, Marina’s singing about actually being one. “People are connecting; don’t know what to say. I’m good at protecting what they want to take…/All I know is that I cannot pretend, so I’m sitting on the outside again.” It’s a cutting, raw, frighteningly real and torturously personal look into a feeling that can often consume, and Diamandis is the only artist whose nailed that feeling so perfectly on the head in pop music today.
The frantic energy of “Mowgli’s Road” serves as one of the records most dramatic moments. “There’s a fork in the road. I’ll do as I am told. And I don’t don’t don’t don’t know, who I want to be.” Self realisation in the hunt for success is portrayed exquisitely on the bone-chilling “Numb”, with Marina “looking for the golden light. It’s a reasonable sacrifice,” then adding “I’m no good to anyone. Coz all I care about – is being Number One.” An incredibly brilliant observation in song for anyone who – whether it be trying to achieve ultimate professional success or hunting the love of your life, for example – has felt that nerve-wrecking all-consumption of being obsessed by one single thing. Again; nobody else is singing about stuff like this.
I was lucky enough to interview Marina during her Australian visit last month, and even more-so to see her life-changing live show. The star-quality dripping from her every word is incredibly fascinating – and exciting – to watch before your eyes. No video clip, magazine article or photo shoot can capture just how mesmerising she is to watch in person, the type of captivation only really rivaled by that previously compared and determined 1980′s Madonna.
Marina has a lot more to say, not only musically but also with her image and live shows, and there’s no chance or view of her being silenced any time soon. Her ability – a true advantage over other pop artists – to have no grasp on keeping too much of herself guarded lyrically is only going to serve her in a positive light as she builds her songbook. Everything is layed out on the table; warts and all, obsessions and neurosis, love and hatred. There is not a single track on “The Family Jewels” that isn’t complete perfection, even (and especially) the imperfectly perfect ones. Not only is it the best album of 2010, but it’s the most honest pop record of – probably – the decade.
Marina Diamandis, it’s you who is the diamond in the rough.