tue 21/05/2019

Marina and the Diamonds, Shepherds Bush Empire | reviews, news & interviews

Marina and the Diamonds, Shepherds Bush Empire

Marina and the Diamonds, Shepherds Bush Empire

The girl who used to be pop's Next Big Thing shows there's still time

Marina: a musical genius?

The way Marina Diamandis was tweeting last year – samples include “I hate pop” and “I want to disappear into a k-hole of Cheetos and beer” – some were half expecting the girl who used to be pop’s Next Big Thing to give up. Not that her debut album, The Family Jewels, did badly exactly but, after all the hype, anything short of becoming a mini-Gaga was destined to be a disappointment. But Marina’s made of tougher stuff. She’s back, and this time around, she seems to really mean business.

The Welsh prodigy has apparently thrown the kitchen sink at her new album, Electra Heart. With a production team whose CVs include Rihanna and Katy Perry, they've written a concept album that "epitomises and embodies the illusions of American ideologies involved in the corruption of self". Hmm. But still the most important question last night was not what she thought of Obama and stuff, but rather whether she’d retained the joyful eccentricity that made The Family Jewels sound like Kate Bush doing Buggles?

By the looks on the faces of the crowd they were glad to be in her Technicolor world for the night

There have been concerns, you see, that she might be getting all serious: recent EP, Radioactive, seemed a bit straight. So last night, when she walked on stage looking like a cross between Alice in Wonderland and something out of The Truman Show it was a huge relief. And for an hour-and-a-quarter Marina reminded the well-filled venue of her knack for creating idiosyncratic vignettes, full of pregnant imagination and youthful emotion. “Are you satisfied/ with an average life?” she asked, and by the looks on the faces of the crowd they were glad to be in her Technicolor world for the night.

Despite the gig being a preview for the new material, numbers from Electra Heart didn’t overload the set. Of the night's 15 songs, more than half came from The Family Jewels, serving to remind us all what a gem it is. Tottering around in six-inch heels, Marina’s elastic voice sounded like Hazel O’Connor, Enya and Lily Allen fed through a blender. “Mowgli’s Road” and “Oh No!” were camp and triumphant, “Numb” delicate and “I Am Not a Robot” so sumptuous that the crowd forgave her for selling it to Bupa for a commercial.

In between were five songs from Electra Heart; one song, “Jeaousy,” that, apparently, will never be played again; and an entirely reworked version of the stop-gap single, “Radioactive". In its new acoustic guise, the song’s strengths were laid bare, as was Marina’s new songwriting direction. Out has gone kookiness and in its place is clever, mainstream songwriting. “When you're around me I'm Radioactive… now I'm heading for a meltdown.” All good stuff, but more Madonna than Gwen Stefani.

Of the new material “Starring Role” was sad and pretty, “Homewrecker” perverse and infectious, and new single “Primadonna” started off whimsical before going electro. Delivered live, in that mental Electra Heart costume (pictured right), they had oodles of charm. Whether that quality is still intact on the record, which clearly has both eyes on the US market, remains to be seen. As does the question of what the American Midwest might make of her. Between songs, her educated Celtic tones sounded disarmingly like Charlotte Church, and even with the bonkers dress and the “star” moves she never really seemed anything other than “girl next door”.

Of course, she isn’t. Even with the lumpen sound of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire on a Sunday night, it was perfectly clear that Marina is some kind of musical genius. Melodies, words and a wild imagination all appear to come totally instinctively. What a shame it would be if trying to capture foreign markets irons out some of her unique qualities; they are what makes her so loveable. When Marina ordered the entire joint to start pogoing on closer “Hollywood” the affection in the room was palpable. If, and there’s no reason why not, she takes off Stateside everything is bound to get more serious. It may make her richer but probably no happier than she was bitching on Facebook whilst eating corn snacks. Maybe that’s what the concept of Electra Heart is actually all about.

Watch the video for "Radioactive"

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