Review: Lorde’s ‘Pure Heroine’ is a royal success

Few artists have made such an initially strong impression as Lorde, the 16-year old New Zealand singer/songwriter. Her breakthrough, the finger-snapping, cynical “Royals” became the first song by a solo female to top Billboard”s Alternative chart in 17 years… longer than she”s been alive.

Her debut album, “Pure Heroine,” arrives today (30) and it”s a welcome reminder that most 16 year olds have a lot more on their minds than Disney would like us to believe. It”s not always sunny and not everyone is dreaming of which One Direction member they”d like to date.

While “Pure Heroine” sometimes drowns under the weight of its own pretension, most of the time Lorde sounds exactly like how a world-aware, savvy teenager should.

Most tracks are built around loops and beats that she created, and while few reach the insanely catchiness of “Royals,” there”s a lot here to sustain interest. On album opener, the snappy “Tennis Court,” she talks about smiling through the fear as she and her friends hide behind their fake images. It”s the high school in “Heathers” set to a beat.

On “Ribs,” which sounds like it could have been a Lana Del Rey cut, Lorde sings in a low smoky swirl of a voice, but it”s a little hard to take her seriously when she sings, “It”s feels so scary getting old.”
It may not be fair, but it”s almost impossible not to compare Lorde to last year”s “It” girl, Lana Del Rey. Both rely heavily on beats, an often breathy delivery, a certain insouciant mystery (Lorde told Billboard if it were up to her she”d never do interviews) and a made-up persona (Lorde”s real name is Ella Yelich-O”Connor). Even though she”s younger, Lorde seems to already have her identity more clearly defined and she”s more self-assured than Del Rey. Plus, the hype preceded Del Rey”s radio success, whereas with Lorde, it was the reverse.

Some of the lyrics verge on the overly precious, as if she”s trying too hard: on the hypnotic “Buzzcut Season” she sings, “I remember when your head caught flame/I kissed your scalp and caressed your brain.” Yikes.
Too much of “Pure Heroine” sounds alike, so when a track like “White Teeth Teens” comes around with its militant, rat-a-tat drums and the kaleidoscope background singing, it”s a nice and needed change of pace.  “I”ll let you in on something big/I”m not a White Teeth Teen,” she sings, happy to be seen as the ultimate outsider.
Similarly, with “Team,” her voice rises over the beats, as she she sings in that way that only a teenage girl can: “I”m over being told to raise my hands up in the air/So there…”  “A World Alone” starts with a lonely guitar note, as she rides off in the car with an older boy. “Let them talk as we”re dancing in this world alone,” she sings.

If Lorde”s handlers can tamp down the hype and let her story continue to build, it will be fascinating to see where she goes as she develops to find her own voice. She”s off to an auspicious start, but we can hold off on the “voice of a generation” heaviosity for now.

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