Marina and the Diamonds - The Family Jewels

Or ‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Make One of the Best Pop Albums of Recent Years’

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‘The Family Jewels’, then. Or, as we see it, ‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Make One of the Best Pop Albums of Recent Years’. Marina Diamandis doesn’t seem to know whether she’s coming or going with this whole ‘fame’ thing; over the course of the record, she moves to and fro between unwavering confidence and crippling self-doubt (sometimes within the same song, as in sparkling opener ‘Are You Satisfied?’). Well, she can at least take comfort from her songwriting skills: most of this quite simply brilliant record was written by her and her alone.

Yes, we will admit that its best song is a single, but then, absolute gems like ‘Mowgli’s Road’ only come along once every few years or so. It is streets ahead of everything else here, showing us Diamandis at the peak of her powers. Nothing else here comes close, though not for want of trying: recent single ‘Hollywood’ is so infectious it should come with a health warning, while ‘Shampain’ indicates that Marina can do electro-pop that’s every bit as good as, say, La Roux.

You would expect a thirteen-track album (certainly a pop album) to begin to flag near the end, but Marina is also very good at quality control, hopping in and out of different genres while letting the record flow at the same time. A slight mis-step comes in the form of ‘Hermit the Frog’, where her quirky side comes to the fore, producing mixed results that no amount of pop savvy can improve.

Track ten, ‘Oh No!’, was added to the tracklisting about a week after ‘The Family Jewels’ was wrapped, but it’s not the spanner-in-the-works that may suggest. It picks things up brilliantly and sets up quite a strong set of closing tracks. Near the end of the album, too, is where Diamandis’ self-esteem seems to plummet, and she moves into altogether darker territory: she sees herself as ‘a stray cat on the run’ (‘Rootless’); ‘I can’t open up and cry / I’ve been silent all my life’, she tells us on penultimate track ‘Numb’. And as for ‘Guilty’? Well, the opening couplet is, ‘I was dreaming something dark / Hiding body parts’.

Our Diamond is quite conflicted then, it would seem. However, she’s pulled off something more than a little difficult by marrying lyrics like the above with the kind of melodies that are found all over ‘The Family Jewels’. Remarkably consistent, and at times quite affecting (the piano-led tracks ‘I Am Not A Robot’ and ‘Obsessions’ showcase her tender side; the former is one of the album’s highlights), this album lives up to all the hype. However Marina may feel about where she is now, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
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