Marina and the Diamonds: The Family Jewels (Album Review)

The Family Jewels is the debut album by Marina and the Diamonds (real name Marina Diamandis–see what she did there?).

Having just been named the #2 “One to Watch” on the BBC’s prestigious Sound of 2010 list, Marina is about to endure a great deal of scrutiny and criticism under the magnifying glass of the English press with the album’s release on February 22. But is she worth the dreaded hype?

Marina’s full, throaty delivery style has the ability to quickly divide her supporters from her detractors, meshing Regina Spektor‘s quirk and Fiona Apple‘s angst with a heavily theatrical flair. Never one to shy from over-enunciation, Marina tackles the bulk of her debut with a bold, brassy delivery and a dizzying array of instrumentation and sound.

The formula works wonderfully for the most part, as with the gorgeous, slow building “Obsessions” and the electro-bubbly contemplation of “Are You Satisfied?”Occasionally though, the album suffers from becoming all too much (and shrill), as evidenced by “Hermit the Frog,” a jumpy, quirky piano and strings-led number that sounds as though Marina is recalling the tale of her deflowering whilst spinning around a carousel filled with Broadway singers and marching band members.

The highlights of Jewels that shine brightest reside in its beginning and end, including “Oh No!”, “Shampain” and “Rootless,” a rewarding, slower moment of choral coos and ample amounts of harpsichord: “Running with my roots pulled up / Caught me cold so they could cut / What there was left of love / I’m rootless, I’m rootless.” Though just as ‘epic’-sounding as the rest of the album, it’s a much needed comedown from the occasionally overwhelming production.

If there’s a major criticism to be made about this album, it’s not the music, but rather the messages behind them. Lyrically, The Family Jewels offers a strange, if not inconsistent array of tales. “I know exactly what I want and who I want to be / I know exactly why I walk and talk like a machine / I’m now becoming my own self-fulfilled prophecy,” Marina announces in the delightfully explosive “Oh No!,” only seven songs after the seemingly contradictory “I Am Not A Robot.”

As with many of the songs that simultaneously fete and belittle the impossible dreams of fame and beauty such as “Girls” and “Hollywood,” Marina’s bouts of maniacal lyricism and celebrations of excess (“I’m obsessed with the mess that’s America”) too often position the singer as an unreliable narrator. We’re never entirely sure just who or what she’s singing about and, by the end, left wondering whether anything being sung is even sincere in the first place.

Then again, if the occasional contradiction in pop music were important, Lady “I hate money!” Gaga would be nowhere, money honey.

Marina’s debut is full of infectious melodies, bright sounds and fresh, delicious hooks. Even if the album as a whole may be a bit too much to tolerate in one spin, it’s not hard to see that there are more than just a few gems hidden in this box of Jewels.

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