MARINA: Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land (Atlantic)
Verdict: Forceful and eclectic
MAROON 5: Jordi (222/Interscope)
Verdict: Pop with poignant twists
GARBAGE: No Gods No Masters (Stunvolume)
Verdict: Melodramatic rock
Marina Diamandis has never fully nailed down her place in pop. Too polished for the indie crowd, too quirky to be mainstream, she’s never become a household name – despite topping the album charts with 2012’s Electra Heart.
The Welsh singer and keyboardist, now based in LA, is at her unpredictable best again on a fifth album that strikes a balance between glossy pop and more eclectic fare.
As usual, there’s a change of gear from her previous effort, 2019’s Love + Fear, a double album released in two portions three weeks apart.
The singer, who originally performed as Marina & The Diamonds, has always been a chameleon, updating her sound on a regular basis, and Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land strips away much of her old theatricality for something more honest and open.
Diamandis, 35, has billed this as her ‘feminine’ album. Like Love + Fear, it’s a record of two halves, though this time, mercifully, it arrives as a single package.
The first part is packed with catchy choruses and concerns itself with the world outside her window.
The second, dominated by heart-wrenching ballads, deals with a broken romance.
Welsh singer and keyboardist Marina Diamandis, 35, has billed this as her ‘feminine’ album
It certainly feels as if she’s talking directly to the listener.
On Electra Heart, she raided the dressing-up box, adopted a vampish alter-ego (Electra), and belted out bubblegum pop tunes in a bid to compete with Katy Perry and Britney Spears.
Now we’re seeing something closer to the real Marina — and the results are even more admirable. The first four songs are pointed without being preachy.
Sung in a forceful soprano, Man’s World is a denunciation of the patriarchy, while Purge The Poison looks at the woes of the world through the eyes of a disapproving Mother Nature.
It’s a song that takes in climate change, the need for more female politicians and — bizarrely — the victimisation of her heroine, Britney.
The title track is more highfalutin, pondering life as it portrays Marina as the bearer of a torch passed down from antiquity.
That sounds heavy going, but it isn’t: the song is an upbeat stomp, its punchy electronics paving the way for a chorus pitched between The Glitter Band and Muse.
In line with the album’s feminine perspective, the singer co-produced six of its ten tracks with multi-instrumentalist Jennifer Decilveo.
Diamandis is also aided by a male writer-producer, James Flannigan, but Decilveo’s contributions are indicative of a growing female presence behind the mixing desk, with recent months seeing major albums by Weezer and Alanis Morissette produced or co‑produced by women (Suzy Shinn and Catherine Marks).
The second half of Ancient Dreams is more tender.
Marina moved from London to West Hollywood after splitting from long-term boyfriend Jack Patterson, of electronic dance act Clean Bandit, and it’s hard not to see some of these songs as a reflection of the ensuing upheaval.
There’s a vulnerability to Highly Emotional People and plaintive ballad Flowers. But amid the regrets, an air of confidence and empowerment shines through.
I Love You But I Love Me More is a surging piano and synth number. Closing track Goodbye is philosophical about the ending of a chapter (‘Goodbye to the girl that I was, goodbye to the girl that you lost’). Ancient Dreams feels like a new beginning.
Maroon 5’s silky singer Adam Levine once worshipped at the altar of such rough-hewn voices as Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder
So maybe Marina still doesn’t quite fit in — but that seems to suit her just fine.
It’s hard to believe that Maroon 5 formed from the ashes of a high school grunge band, Kara’s Flowers, with silky singer Adam Levine once worshipping at the altar of such rough-hewn voices as Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder.
Far from cranking the volume dials up to 11, the Los Angeles sextet have become masters of unpretentious pop and slick R&B.
There’s a generic feel to the pop numbers on new album Jordi, with nothing as inventive as their early hits Harder To Breathe and This Love, or as ear-catching as Moves Like Jagger, the Christina Aguilera duet that pumped fresh life into the group in 2011.
The R&B workouts are dominated by guests, including rapper Megan Thee Stallion, but the record eventually asserts its personality.
Band stalwarts Jesse Carmichael (keyboards) and James Valentine (guitar) are excellent foils to Levine’s sweet croon on Beautiful Mistakes and the sun-drenched One Light.
Stevie Nicks brings the agile essence of Fleetwood Mac to Remedy, a duet with Levine.
There are two poignant references to the band’s late manager, Jordan Feldstein, who died in 2017. Feldstein’s nickname was Jordi, hence the album title; and he’s also honoured in the hymn-like Memories.
As befits a band comprising a Scottish singer, Shirley Manson, and three good old boys from the American Midwest, Garbage cover the waterfront on No Gods No Masters, their third album since a 2010 reunion.
Confessional tracks rub shoulders with protest songs, pounding rockers and a New Order-ish dance number.
Manson is in great voice, admitting to her vulnerabilities on Uncomfortably Me and apologising for being a ‘baby rattlesnake’ on Wolves.
Melodic hooks play second fiddle to pulsating beats, but there’s a tuneful ballad in This City Will Kill You. Manson has already sung one big Bond Theme (The World Is Not Enough).
This could be another.
All albums out today. Garbage start a UK tour with Blondie on November 6 at the M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool (ticketmaster.co.uk).
Jessie adds more dishes to her summer party feast
Channelling Donna Summer and the spirit of a summer dance party, Jessie Ware teams up with DJ and producer Sam Lewis and heads back to clubland on new single Hot N Heavy.
The pulsating track is one of seven new songs (plus a remix) on today’s expanded reissue of Jessie’s BRIT-nominated album What’s Your Pleasure?.
Glaswegian trio Chvrches opt for a darker twist on the latest taster for the forthcoming Screen Violence album.
How Not To Drown is a moody gothic rock number, with Cure singer Robert Smith an unmistakable, and potent, presence in the second verse as he duets with Lauren Mayberry.
John Mayer is also back, with a sneak peek at next month’s Sob Rock album.
The singer and guitarist is joined by Toto’s Lenny Castro and Greg Phillinganes on the mid‑tempo Last Train Home.
And Billie Eilish continues to tease her forthcoming second album with new single Lost Cause, a lament for a flawed relationship, while Canadian country star Orville Peck adds reverb-heavy guitars, banjo and castanets to a cover of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way.
The single is from this month’s 10th anniversary edition of Gaga’s Born This Way album.