Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Review: Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land • Marina

“I know exactly what I want and who I want to be. I know exactly why I walk and talk like a machine. I'm now becoming my own self-fulfilled prophecy,” Marina Diamandis declared on her debut record, The Family Jewels, over 10 years ago. The record kept American celebrity culture at an arm’s length, both admiring and criticizing Hollywood’s outrageousness. Just two years later, she became an immersion journalist in the very subject with Electra Heart, a concept record made for and by the American pop music machine – and if convincing emulation was the goal, the record was a success. But since she split her career into two polarized halves in its infancy, Marina Diamandis has become the perpetual pop music pendulum: Each record to follow has teetered between ironic criticism of superficial culture and sanctimonious social experimentation within it. How exactly was someone like Marina to correct her own pinballed trajectory?

Well, something like Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land might do the trick. Marina’s fifth studio record, it refocuses the songwriter as a social commentator via snappy pop songs: Its title track whips out a breakneck drumbeat with which Diamandis must keep pace as she rattles through her lyrics. That’s a common theme in the record’s front half, where the album is most ear-catching: Though it suffers from a nonevent chorus, “Purge the Poison” barrels along with a similar intensity as she recounts society’s failings without much analysis. As the album turns the corner around the booming “New America,” however, it hits an emotional wall from which it never recovers. The album stumbles into its latter piano ballads, all of which are fine listens at best while suffering from a strange disconnect from their counterparts’ shiny activism. It’s a lopsided attempt to remedy Diamandis’ identity crisis – but a much more admirable one than the last.

Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land is available now under Atlantic Records.

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