Melanie Martinez – Cry Baby

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Melanie is late to the game. There has been a wave of Pop singers who sound like a response to the abundance of empowerment anthems. You know this style has been bled dry when Sia tries to write a vulnerable song about alcoholism and ends up ripping off “Titanium”.

Lana Del Rey was about the darker side of hedonism and hot bad guys. Tove Lo sang about the loneliness that finds even the sexiest women. Although they made great albums, Martinez feels like the true beating this genre needs. Tove Lo and Lana still sang like beautiful people. Melanie is the voice of the outcast.

Thematically, the album has more in common with Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails. Its structure is similar to the famous album by these two. The songs don’t tell a story as much as they show a psychological journey of a character, who starts off as Cry Baby and ends up as Mad Hatter.

This is not the trouble of a beautiful girl who just needs to choose a different environment. Melanie’s protagonist is an outcast who finds rejection wherever she goes. On “Dollhouse”, she finds no warmth in a family that’s fine only on the surface. On “Carousel” and “Soap”, she’s rejected romantically. The former deserves special mention. It’s one of the few songs where the hopelessness of love is considered.

The rejection climaxes in “Pity Party” and “Tag, You’re It”. In the former, Cry Baby realizes she has nobody. On the latter, someone finally notices her and it’s a sexual predator. Eventually, she uses the same innocence and tenderness she had in the title track for rebellion. Poisoned “Milk and Cookies” get rid of the asshole. The ending is optimistic – she rejects society and its superficiality on “Mrs. Potato Head” and finds joy in “Mad Hatter”.

Superficiality is a big deal here, and in Pop music. How we look, in fact, is a plague that still infects women. Female musicians will still get praised more for their looks than men, as if it has any bearings on the quality. On Little Mix’s “Black Magic” music video, a change of clothes suddenly makes the guy interested.

Melanie is obsessed with how we use fancy covers to hide things. Almost every song here involves bad things having a nice cover, from the dollhouse that hides a dysfunctional family to the poisoned milk and cookies. That’s where Melanie’s childish aesthetic comes into play.

The whole album uses childish aesthetic to express dark themes. The music is the same. The melodies have a nursery rhyme-like quality. Nothing is actually aggressive or loud. “Worth It” is more abrasive musically, but then comes the chorus of “Milk and Cookies”.

While this aesthetic is often brilliant and Melanie sounds like a visionary, it also highlights how inexperienced she is. There’s a reason The Downward Spiral wasn’t Reznor’s first album. Melanie swings between being obvious and delivering just the right line. On “Dollhouse”, you get lines like “Pose with your brother, won’t you be a good sister?”. It’s brilliant in the way it creepily hints at sexual harassment. Then she bluntly states her Dad is having an affair.

She doesn’t stray from the concept, and that’s good. Only two songs feel slightly out-of-place. “Training Wheels” is a love song that’s great on its own but lacks the darkness that will connect it to the rest. “Pacify Her” is the sort of thing I’d expect from Lana Del Rey and Tove Lo. For a brief moment Cry Baby is an attractive girl that can steal others’ boyfriends?

“Mrs. Potato Head” has been already highlighted by many as the best song on the album. It should’ve spread like wildfire through Tumblr and become a meme. It’s an even better anti-beauty anthem than that Manson track. It has no subtly, it doesn’t need any. Someone need to sing “No one will love you if you’re unattractive”. It’s not about plastic surgery, but about our worship of beauty. We wouldn’t need plastic surgeries if we wouldn’t worship beauty like this. It’s also one of the softest songs on the album, and that only makes it cut deeper.

There will be weirder Pop albums, but Cry Baby is the one we need now the most. Its musical backdrop is unique, but not very attention grabbing. It exists to go along with Melanie’s ideas, but she doesn’t expand on them. The most attention-grabbing thing musically is the bass drop in “Soap”, which uses bubbling sounds. The album doesn’t need an overblown sound. Its smallness fits with the childish atmosphere.

The rough edges prevent it from being a classic, but it’s still a brilliant Pop album. It doesn’t even come close to being a “singles with filler” album. The singles are actually some of the weaker tracks. Melanie manages to create a persona of her own and not just create a collection of great songs, but a sequencing that works. It’s also another step forward from the bland empowerment we’ve been plagued with. I wonder what will replace Melanie’s brand of depressed Pop.

4 dollhouses out of 5

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Tove Lo – Queen of the Clouds

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In almost every disucssion involving the thrillng (yet repetitive) subject of romantic love, I pointed out how different men and women experience it. Men suffer from a lack of attention, from a loneliness that’s like a black hole sucking up the joy from everything. I rarely met any women who complains about that. Rather, there is always a stream of guys waiting to get in bed with them. Their biggest problem is that they’re just not the guys they want, or that they only want sex.

I know I can come off as a prick in these discussions. If I told a poor man that my steak was cooked well-done, he’d laugh at me and tell me to be thankful I at least have a steak. This is generally how I reacted when I heard women getting ‘burned out’ on male attention.

Queen of the Cloud both confirms my view and challenges it. Nowhere in these songs Tove Lo talks about being really alone. That emptiness you hear in American Football isn’t here. There’s nothing like “Forget Her”. Yet it doesn’t make it any less emotionally effective. Like Lana Del Rey, Tove Lo shows things from a very female perspective and brings depth to her character.

Lana Del Rey is a good comparison. They both play a very similar character. They’re both sexually charged and heartbroken. The first third is about picking up hot guys in the clubs and telling them that if they love her right, they will fuck for life. Tove Lo’s character is more of an everywoman, one who wants to enjoy life and just happens to stumble upon a guy who makes her feel like she’s on drugs.

There have been plenty of break-up albums. What makes Queen of the Clouds distinct is, other than the obviously female perspective, is its coherency. It’s not just that the album is split into 3 parts with obvious titles. Each song in them show the progress.

The Sex part starts with “My Gun” and “Like Em Young”, which are general statements that Tove Lo likes to have sex and she prefers young guys. It’s a good time to stop and ask why do women can sing about hot guys without sounding so hateful. “Talking Body” is where she actually meets the hot guy, and is one of the best ever songs written about sex. The way she sings “If you love me right” is pure joy. Isn’t this how sex should be, fun and joyous?

We’ve been bombarded by female artists ‘reclaiming sexuality’. What they did was brag that they got ass and that rappers write songs about them. I don’t see it as a major achievement to have a hateful sex rap written about you, but such are things. These artists weren’t really sexual, though. They bragged about their sexuality, which is like bragging about packing guns or pwning noobs in World of Warcraft. In the end, the subject of your song is how awesome you are, not sex.

That’s not so in Tove Lo’s case. Her sexuality is full of joy and excitement. She doesn’t have sex to prove anything to us. She will fuck him for life if it goes right, if it’s fun enough. The whole first half as bouncy, EDM-like production that’s more about warm tones rather than aggressive sounds.

It gets more interesting as it goes on. There’s not much to say about the Love part. “I’m not on drugs/I’m just in love” is a line so brilliant that it raises an otherwise average song. There is also a lot of dubstep influence. What sticks out are the hesitation and insecurity in “Moments”. This is where Tove Lo reminds me that in heaven it’s as it is on Earth. Tove Lo shouldn’t feel insecure about attracting guys. She’s a famous singer who looks good and writes better than lyrics than almost anyone in her sound. Yet when she sings “I have my moments”, she sounds desperate to convince herself more than to convince the guy. Haven’t I felt this before?

The Pain part is the album’s beating heart, where Tove Lo sounds like she’s pouring all passion into. She still gets plenty of male attention. On “Habits” she talks about picking daddies in the playground and going home with other people to numb the pain. Yet it doesn’t work. This is where “This Time Around” comes in. It’s the beating heart of the record. The decision to add a boring house track after it is plain stupidity.

Everyone tells me that love is an unpredictable thing. I wish it was, but Tove Lo seems to agree with me despite our completely different experiences. “This Time Around” isn’t just a eulogy for a relationship. It’s lamenting how repetitive the whole thing is. We go all in only to find that we’re the same at the end and we can no longer feel it. Maybe it doesn’t matter how much attention you get. When you get burned out you’re no longer feeling it, and every time you try it’s the same thing.

Although the songs are good enough on their own, it’s mostly the concept that holds this album together. It’s a joy to listen to from beginning to end, because every song connects to the other. “Moments” opens up The Love with hesitation, while “Not on Drugs” is the climax where you’re feeling like you are on drugs. “Timebomb” ends The Sex with the excitement that makes you indifferent to anything else. “Thousand Miles” opens The Pain with the will to go back to the person, before you realize how much he’s hurt you.

A concept album doesn’t have to tell us the exact events. Music is always better at delivering an emotional experience than an intellectual one. Turning a philosophical essay into pop song will make it lose most of its depth. Turning a political essay to a rock song makes it propaganda. The concept works here because every song documents What It Feels Like in every stage of the relationship. That brings it closer to The Downward Spiral rather than that awful Muse album.

Only “Habits”, “Talking Body” and “This Time Around” truly stick out, although they’re all candidates for Best Pop Songs Ever list. Still, nothing here is filler and the songs that end up without melody (“Timebomb” especially) are musically interesting enough. Recently I’ve been thinking we’re in one of the best eras of Pop music. Albums like this are the reason.

3.5 clouds out of 5

The Beatles – Abbey Road

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It’s good the Beatles broke up after this. It sounds different in retrospect. It probably sounds great if you brainwashed yourself that the Beatles’ gentle pop is the only original music that there is. If you’re listening to it as you would any other record, you might hear a band just banging away their last ideas with hopes of getting done with the thing. Exhaustion is all over the place. The last songs are short not to make a coherent, fluid piece that connects. They’re short because they’re too tired to record the rest.

The first half is a collection of B-Sides that has none of the imagination of Sgt. Peppers (It’s also a failure, but an interesting one) and none of the brilliant melodies of Revolver. There’s a great melody in “Come Together”, but they made it an interlude and instead based the whole song around an annoying shwoop! sound. “Something” has a nice slide guitar, but it’s hard to think such a lifeless ballad comes from the people who made “In My Life”.

They sound just as tired at the rest of the songs. Either they tackle a unique idea and completley ruin it – “Because”, “You Never Give Me Your Money” or they make a traditional song that begs for a different performer who actually cares about the material – “Oh! Darling”, which sounds like a parody, and “Here Comes the Sun”. There’s no excitement or verve here. They sing love songs not because they remember a woman they used to love but because they became professionals in it.

That’s how Abbey Road sounds. It’s a band who’s so professional just going through the motions and can’t get excited over anything. That’s why even the slightly innovative songs like “Because” sound terrible. You’d think that by breaking from the format of pop songs, they’ll find inspiration. The second half, though, is much worse. “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “She Came In…” are the best songs there, and neither sounds like they could be extended. The latter probably benefits from reminding me of Everlast’s “Blinded By the Sun”, which is the best song I will mention in this review.

“I Want You” is the only song where the Beatles sound like the Beatles. As in, they sound like a band with great melodies and interesting ideas. It’s not just that it’s the boldest thing here. There’s focus there that makes it sound like it came out of another album. It might be slightly too long, but it’s a song that sounds great even after Doom Metal became a genre. It doesn’t just rely on the cool idea but there’s a great melody and some great riffs. The two nonsense songs here are also decent (“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, “Octopus’s Garden”), and imply that maybe the Beatles’ should have made an album for children.
Abbey Road is may be worth a spin to absorb its ideas, but only one of them actually works. If you want to hear a band being absolutely tired of music and try to get by on their talents, it’s the album for you. If you ever wanted an album about how the round world turns Lennon on and with one minute songs about Polythene Pam who’s so good looking but she looks like a man, you’ll have a great time with it. Its main purpose though, is to make you scratch your head and wonder how come the Beatlemania existed in the first place.

2 silver hammers out of 5