Sunday, April 28, 2019

Review: Love + Fear • Marina

After many years spent in a popular but heavily manicured record cycle, Marina Diamandis placed a chokehold around the neck of her creative process on her last studio record. Written by herself and produced with one collaborator, Froot was a guarded, somewhat stagnant body of pop music. And in its wake, she retreated, taking an introductory course in psychology while throwing around the idea of a hiatus from the industry. It seemed that one lengthy stunt in an alter ego’s shoes doomed Marina to a jaded state as a musician. But then, Marina (sans the Diamonds) lightened up... well, as much as someone like Marina can.

Whereas Froot worked against its time period to a degree, Marina’s fourth studio record, Love + Fear, is a current affair that flaunts its timestamp. “Baby,” her calypso collaboration with Clean Bandit, feels at home on the first side of the record between the easygoing breeziness of “Orange Trees” and the saturated electronic joy of “Enjoy Your Life.” On the record's flipside, "Believe in Love" and "You" could have been piano ballads in past lives, before they were dressed in vocoders and choppy percussion. The tropical-lite "Karma" and unexpected banger "Emotional Machine," however, are the true buoys of Fear.

Though the two sides of the record are meant to straddle the titular emotions, there doesn't seem to be much incentive to treating them as separate entities, because the complex feelings aren't explored in an outright fashion. Rather, the album's loose narrative expresses contentment and appreciation for life, even through the wickedness of modern society – something that gets lost in its schism. And with minimalist production and dampened songwriting to match, the record stretches thin at 16 tracks, especially when weaker, less developed tracks like "Superstar" and "No More Suckers" fail to make a connection altogether.

Marina’s flowery songwriting sometimes sticks the landing: Lead single “Handmade Heaven” finds its basis in the serenity of untapped wildlife and feels appropriately pastel. For each passable track, though, there's one like “To Be Human,” which trots the globe and expends most of its lyrical real estate not on its message of unity through universal love, but on poetic imagery of foreign countrysides and American riots. And perhaps that’s the record’s most glaring problem: It reaches for sweeping statements with little substance in its foundation. But when Marina lets herself slide into relaxed, unadulterated pop music, which she does often enough on this record, Love + Fear seems the most enjoyable for its creator and its listeners alike.

Love + Fear is available now under Atlantic Records.

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