Marina has never fallen short of a concept and after nearly stepping away from the music scene altogether, she’s dropped The Diamonds and given birth to a whole new artist. The idea behind this album focuses on psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ argument that there are only two primary emotions (love and fear), and if you are in a place of fear, you cannot be in a place of love. This two-parter is Marina’s take on this argument – finding positives in both emotions.
The ‘Love’ half of the album makes it clear Marina’s moving away from a more distinctive sound to her take on current pop music. The politically charged ‘To Be Human’ sounds like it could have fit perfectly on her debut ‘The Family Jewels’, whilst ‘Enjoy Your Life’ features catchy melodies, striking synths and a punchy, earworm chorus. ‘True” and ‘End Of The Earth’ fall flat, lacking personality and leaving you waiting for more.
However, tracks like ‘Superstar’ showcase her excellent songwriting but are let down by lacklustre production, while ‘Orange Trees’ translates as a half-hearted attempt for a chart-topping summer hit.
‘Love’ is where the album falls short of delivering — containing most of the pre-release singles and the mainstream Clean Bandit collaboration ‘Baby’ — there are few moments where it feels like the signature Marina.
The ‘Fear’ half of the album is riddled with concern and confusion about life itself and the darker emotions that come with it. Opener ‘Believe In Love’ sits near the top of Marina’s most captivating songs, crafted so elegantly you can physically feel the loss and self-doubt she’s talking about when she says: “I need to believe in love/Losing you is what I’m afraid of”. The end of the track features a haunting piano riff accompanied by Marina’s despairing vocals, making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
While one might assume the ‘Fear’ side of this record would see darker production and more vulnerability, Marina shows there’s still light at the end of the tunnel. On ‘Life Is Strange’ she pokes fun at herself: “Don’t know what I’m doing with my life / Everybody feels the same and all we know is life is strange” she sings during the chorus over cutting violin strings. It’s as if she’s finally come to terms with the weirdness of life – all that’s left to do is to laugh about it.
Again, there are still some weak moments on this half of the record. The seagull-like vocal effect on ‘You’ combined with tropical-infused production makes it almost unbearable to listen too, and even Broods’ powerful backing vocals fail to keep ‘Emotional Machine’ afloat.
The album closes with the reflective “Soft To Be Strong”, a downtempo ballad and moment of self-realisation for Marina – “Finally I feel the fear is gone/I found out love has to be soft to be strong” – as she brings her journey and discovery full circle.
When Marina is playing to her strengths, there’s no stopping her. But as ‘Love + Fear’ is split between two primary emotions, at times it does appear disjointed and confused. There are some pretty bland moments too – hard to digest given her impeccable discography – and times when her uniqueness and songwriting are overshadowed by repetitive production techniques and attempts at pop that are authentic but don’t suit her. Regardless of this, there’s one thing for certain – Marina’s an incredible artist.
Words: Nick Lowe
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