Marina and the Diamonds’s “The Family Jewels”

Marina & the Diamonds / The Family Jewels / Feb 22
06. Obsessions / 07. Hollywood

In a world where the success of female Brits masquerading under corporate names rests on something as timeless as the ability to portray struggling relationships, it’s still hard not to draw similar debuts into comparisons to the two best examples: the Mercury Award nominees Florence and the Machine and Bat for Lashes. But at least you know this much: as of right now, Pitchfork has yet to mention Marina and the Diamonds at all, so you’re either one step ahead or hopelessly unhip. This is not to say Marina and the Diamonds isn’t relevant – quite the opposite (do people even still regard Pitchfork as a gold standard?). The Singles Jukebox has both lovingly cradled and shamelessly hacked her lead-in singles, while one memorable review quips, “It’s hard to shake the feeling that Marina would be a more sympathetic vocalist, protagonist, storyteller – anything – if she didn’t sing as if she had large weights attached to her bottom lip.” Wait, that’s a bad thing?

But where Welch and Khan defy the overwhelming irony of hipster credo to offer very sincere, very open thoughts on the human experience, Diamandis reaches for the Haus of Gaga absurdism stars, taking the abundance of thrashing piano chords and vocal gymnastics to Cirque du Soleil proportions that channel sometimes ABBA (“Shampain”), sometimes Betty Hutton (“Girls”). Like the former, Diamandis takes the spirit of Broadway to craft mostly overdone polemics on sexism and old-fashioned Americana with an equal attention to the themes of obsession and vulnerability that spring up as often as one-note chorus lines accompanied by their rhythmic piano equivalents. These verbal tantrums are tempered by the album’s devotion to somewhat inconsistent ballads that investigate the core of emotionless jerks (in which “I Am Not a Robot” becomes an affront to her presumed indifference) to the lows of self-isolation (in which “Numb” becomes a confession of her complete apathy). Still, the opening track sets the listener up for the upcoming hypocrisies: “It’s my problem if I feel the need to hide / and it’s my problem if I have no friends and feel I want to die,” eventually morphs into what is seemingly the heart of the album’s road to self-actualization: “I know exactly what I want and who I want to be / I know exactly why I walk and talk like a machine.” The fact that everything in between doesn’t exactly add up is irrelevant, particularly when the revelations are made with the caveat of a “self-fulfilled prophecy.”

Those looking for more than just a trip through some wacky hyperbole and gigantic metaphors will still be satisfied by the abundance of zinging choruses and piano chords (have I mentioned the piano yet? I don’t think I did – piano, piano, piano). Girls may not be meant to fight dirty, but Diamandis can’t help that her bark is just as bad as her bite; we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Official Site
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3 thoughts on “Marina and the Diamonds’s “The Family Jewels”

  1. lecafedesartistes March 5, 2010 / 10:49 pm

    This really isn’t about the record, I haven’t heard it quite yet–though I will very soon. This here is about Pitchfork. *sigh*
    I loved Pitchfork, I really did. I went through their “Best New Music” reviews and downloaded almost every indie rock album in there, and all of them greatly pleased me, even the completely strange Animal Collective and their series of 9.0 and above albums. Alas, a few days ago I made the mistake of searching “Muse”, “Coldplay”, “The Killers” or “Rufus Wainwright” on Pitchfork. To my great dismay, the excellent albums put out by those four artists got ratings below the average 7.0 mark, albums that, for the most part, deserved mentions in the Best New Music section.
    I loved Pitchfork for their adoration of artists I adore and no one around me seems to–The Antlers, Local Natives, The New Pornographers, Arcade Fire (though, living in Montreal, everyone here loves them… you just can’t not love a really good band from your own city).
    Pitchfork’s view of music is extremely narrow, reserved to a few indie bands (not even indie in general–only a few get consistently good ratings, excluding many that would deserve such praise) that produce lo-fi basement recordings and convince a label to publish the material. I don’t disapprove of this preference; in fact, I share it. The wall of sound technique mixed to the garage-recording production of several indie albums is extremely appealing to me; nonetheless, I am miles away from listening to nothing but that. I would be ashamed to keep my musical horizon so very low.
    As you said, Pitchfork isn’t all that relevant. It never really was, especially considering indie is really outie, it always will be and always has; indie rock is the genre of great extravagances and complete liberty, it’s what I love about it. Pitchfork, does, however, betray that love for attempts to make itself relevant. I will draw to attention reviews of Lil’ Wayne’s Tha Carter III and Kanye West’s entire discography. Two rapidly rising acts, two guys who have been awarded the… “right” to sit in Pitchfork’s Best New Music section. Pitchfork isn’t the most relevant of sites, but it tries a lot, and it did work with Arcade Fire. A 9.7/10.0 review of 2004’s “Funeral” boosted the sales of the album immensely. Though I cannot say that the bands are bad, I love them, Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene are essentially creations of Pitchfork. Without their help, it might not have worked quite as well as it has.
    Pitchfork is also entirely self-righteous. They take established artists like Muse (whose latest masterpiece “The Resistance” garnered a mere 5.9…!) and, just because they can, tell us: “Wait, what? Are you pathetic enough to like this crap? Seriously.” Pitchfork has become rather influent, though not quite on the mainstream scene yet. What’s disgusting is how they throw it around, just like Rolling Stone. As is typical of anyone who gets his hands on power, they will abuse of it. Rolling Stone assigns seemingly random grades (…well, it’s not really a secret–4 or 5-star album ratings were well-compensated) and Pitchfork never assigns a good grade to anything other than their homies. It’s really quite pathetic.
    …and then there’s the article that, really, says it all.

    • Anna March 6, 2010 / 2:12 pm

      I have a love/hate relationship with Pitchfork, for several reasons, and I think the intro to this review stemmed from the “hate” realm; yesterday they posted their review of Ellie Goulding’s Lights, probably my favorite album of 2010 to date. Pitchfork’s take: meh. It doesn’t make me upset, just disappointed (which is a careful line to tread; there’s no reason to get upset just because someone hates something you love – how insecure can you be?). It has always been my opinion that good music writing (as opposed to good criticism) doesn’t seek to sway a reader either way, but merely brings up several good points for discussion. Music writing is a conversation, not a board game. I know saying that that seems kind of lame when I post my own reviews, with my own ratings (which I have considered more than once to just get rid of – they’re arbitrary, they mean nothing, they are a personal opinion and have never sought to become the definitive anything), but I always structure my reviews keeping in mind the importance of solid observations and interpretations, rather than criticisms (though I think it’s impossible to avoid that altogether – isn’t interpretation a kind of criticism?).

      This is where I find it hard to comment on other people’s music blogs: more often than not, blogs seek to claim a rating on an album and the entire road from word one to word last is nothing more than a persuasive argument for or against an album or single rather than filtered through any sort of contextual, or meaningful lens. These reviews are therefore often boring, infuriate/delight readers for the simple fact that they disagree or agree and are pointless since no one blog has sway in the larger “Pitchfork effect” sense. I am not knocking down criticism. There’s a need for it in this world where more than 100 albums are released a month and nobody has time to listen to them all. I rarely look at the rating system of a Pitchfork review, or any review; I always read a review first (hell, I often read reviews after I have heard the music for the conversational aspect, to read about things I might have missed, to broaden my view of an album either negatively or positively). Some of the articles you linked may speak of the meandering, uninteresting text that plagues Pitchfork reviews, but I think that’s the part about Pitchfork that I love: most of my favorite music writers work for Pitchfork. In fact, when I’m looking for inspiration, or don’t know how to start a particular piece of writing, I often turn to Pitchfork reviews to see how they’re constructed, or how reviews are introduced; they’re different, they’re effectual. Once in a while, I’ll read a column, usually Tom Ewing’s Poptimism and an interview that catches my eye, but it’s the reviews I keep going back to.

      Pitchfork has (had?) influence and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Like you said, they give exposure to bands that couldn’t get it any other way. They look for the different, the out there, the opposite of mainstream. They offer choices where Rolling Stone gives absolutes. But you never know if you really like something until you hear it. Whether it’s Rolling Stone writing a review, or Pitchfork, or your favorite music blog (which tends to have a bit more clout for me, rather than the large music institutions when it comes to sheer “rating” – I always recommend people to find the critic they most often agree with, the critic that gets them the most excited about music in general, rather than sweeping past bylines and accrediting reviews to The Name; another good thing about music bloggers – no agendas), listening is the only way you’ll really know.

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