Ok, cheesy title, but then I did turn 40 last month and am allowed a little cheese, just as I’m allowed a mini-midlife crisis crush on this half Welsh, half Greek pop diva who looks like CZJ (even though she does say so herself) and sounds like Robbie Williams channeling Kate Bush. The lyrics can be self-referential to the point of alienation, but they lay bare her ambitions and insecurites with a brutality and intelligence that make Pixie Lott and Ellie Goulding sound like the overproduced simpering starlets they are.
She is Marina Diamandis, aka ‘Marina and The Diamonds’. Her debut album ’The Family Jewels’ is supposedly tipped to hit big at next year’s Brits and she made her ’Later…’ debut this week alongside Paul Weller. Her label – Warners – is certainly hyping her to the skies, bombarding music bloggers like workmate Music Like Dirt with remix after remix till they capitulate, but is the hype justified? Well, yes:
So, that may or may not have been a song about the material temptations of the rational world (“the unforsaken road”) at the expense of instinctive freedom; a plea for identity wrapped in a handy Jungle Book analogy that could not have been written by anyone else to my knowledge. And then she writes what she claims to be a paean to US culture that somehow comes out as a total evisceration of everything American:
She looks amazing but different in both videos, as any star should, but it’s her purposefully untrained voice that is both her stength and weakness. It has too many gratuitous quirks and affectations to be unequivocally loved, and yet its androgyny allows her to counterpoint her own angelic backing vocals with a muscular swoop that sets her apart from faux soul sirens like Paloma Faith. It is a uniquely contemporary British voice that’s unafraid to indulge the masculine - hence all the Kate Bush comparisons – but I actually think it’s one better suited to power pop like this eleventh hour addition to the album, written as a riposte to Mowgli’s Road:
She’s already admitted a musical admiration for Britney and I can’t listen to this without picturing Marina leading a fully choreographed phalanx of britgirls, pouting round playgrounds & prancing down High Streets, their desires and diseases brazenly displayed. Like ‘Hollywood’, it’s a song that both hates and celebrates, approaching 21st Century culture from a point deep within it yet to one side, transforming her puzzlement & dismay into pure drive.
And, finally, here’s her appearance on ‘Later…’ performing what she considers to be her most mature song, ‘I Am Not a Robot’. The performance lays out all the bad – the vibrato vocal tics, the inability to fill the stage, the nervous inconsistency so at odds with her stridence in the studio - but there’s an energy and honesty that’s irresistible. And she really gets into it toward the end.
So she isn’t perfect, but I think that’s her point. Maybe she’ll never be the star Warners want her to be, and maybe sometimes she can try too hard to be quirky, but I’ll take her normality over any sanitised supposedly independent pop product you can name. She isn’t trying to be Norah Jones or Lady Gaga. She’s Marina Diamandis, and, under a British sky, she outshines them all.