When I first started listening to music, Britney Spears was 17 and her career was taking off at a considerable speed. Ever since, emerging pop stars — especially female ones — have launched stratospheric careers by more or less sticking to Britney’s formula, catering to younger teens and absorbing the increasing materialism of contemporary pop culture into their commercial appeal. Which why it is both a shock and a relief to see 17-year-old Kiwi singer-songwriter Lorde do so well. Her #1 single “Royals” — a song that points out that the subject matter of contemporary music has little in common with her own life — dominated the charts last fall. And why not? It’s a damn good pop song, and it’s about time somebody actually stepped up and called BS on everyone pretending they can actually relate to the lyrical content of modern music.
So how is Pure Heroine, her debut LP? Well, at ten tracks and 37 minutes, it’s pretty slight. If anything, though, it sounds even slighter — the production is stylishly minimalist, which is charming at first but gets old after several listens. Actually, scratch that. Even by the end of the album, it feels as if the same sounds are being recycled over and over. The songwriting is promising, but again, feels thin. Maybe half of these songs are winners: “Tennis Court,” “Royals,” “Team,” “Glory and Gore,” and “A World Alone.” The rest aren’t bad, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that this is a pop album top-heavy with singles (and potential singles); I know I wish Lorde had been given room to expand her approach somewhat. As a result, it falls into the trap of the typical pop album: the songs that work really work, and the ones that don’t come across as wholly inferior to the ones that do.
Again, if Pure Heroine had a broader sonic palette, Lorde — and her handlers — probably wouldn’t have made this misstep, but alas, everything in the minimalist production winds up on the surface, with nothing really new to discover with each listen through the album. As it stands, it’s a decent first outing, and there’s no doubt more good stuff on the way from this talented young lady, but most of Pure Heroine will likely fade quickly — for me, at least.