Producer: Joel Little
Release Date: Sept. 30
Ten months after floating out her debut EP online for free in her native New Zealand, Ella Yelich-O’Connor, the teenage singer-songwriter known as Lorde, has conjured an immense amount of stateside interest in her first full-length. Fortunately, “Pure Heroine” (note the silent E in both the title and its author’s stage name) delivers on the promise of Lorde’s Top 10 hit “Royals,” and then some.
Built around producer Joel Little’s deep bass rumbles, lilting loops and programmed beats, the album evokes the shadowy sonics of Massive Attack and the XX. In the center of the heaviness, however, is a 16-year-old with a dynamic voice and an even better pop sensibility: “Ribs” finds Lorde waxing poetic about the scariness of getting older, while new single “Team” fashions a commanding hook out of the singer’s disillusionment with modern pop music.
“We’re dancing in this world alone,” she concludes on the finale “A World Alone.” Even if that’s true, “Pure Heroine” has provided an immaculate soundtrack to that solitude. This 16-year-old’s first album is so smart that it begins with the line “Don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk?” and ends with the statement, “Let them talk.” In between is an exploration into the soul of a quiet girl in the Internet age, trying to feel something and not envy everything.
September has been a profoundly great month for new female vocalists in popular music, but Lorde is easily the most vocally striking and lyrically thought-provoking. “Pure Heroine” is honest and addictive. Welcome to the age of Lorde.
Which songs on “Pure Heroine” are musical royalty? Check out our track-by-track take on Lorde’s debut.
1. Tennis Court
Along with “Royals,” “Tennis Court” is likely the song that introduced most listeners to Lorde, and operates as the older, slightly crazier cousin of the Top 10 hit. The detached attitude, woozy production and chopped-n-screwed “Yeah!” exclamations all showcase an artist willing to synthesize the darker edges of pop music and produce something intoxicating.
2. 400 Lux – Femme fatale pop at its finest: over canyon-sized bass and popping percussion, Lorde tosses off a deeply evocative lyric (“You drape your wrists over the steering wheel”) in the same couplet as a powerful declaration (“We might be hollow, but we’re brave”).
The breakout hit sounds even more sparse on the full album, following the comparatively lush “400 Lux.” A complete outlier on Top 40 radio, “Royals” can chalk up some of its stateside success to its knack for conjuring attention-grabbing phrases like “Let me live that fantasy,” “We’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams” and “I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh” amidst the rattled-off takedown of luxury.
4. Ribs – The ambient opening leads into an exhausted-sounding Lorde growing more frantic with each passing second, as if she’s discovering new maturity and grown-up problems in real time. The line “‘Lover’s Spit’ left on repeat” may or may not be a Broken Social Scene deep cut shout-out; we’re guessing it is, because Lorde may just be that cool.
5. Buzzcut Season – Little’s production visits a tropical paradise as Lorde tries to remain in blissful ignorance to the crumbling world trying to permeate through news broadcasts. The singer’s voice keeps trying to sail off into the sky, but reality keeps gripping her down.
Manipulating her voice into a dead-eyed rumble at the beginning of “Team,” Lorde spirals her pipes downward in a manner that recalls Vampire Weekend’s “Diane Young.” But “Team,” the follow-up single to “Royals,” crackles thanks to its gentle waves of synthesizer and Lorde’s disinterested take on modern pop: “I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air/So there.”
7. Glory and Gore – The cynicism toward music on “Team” is now directed at our society’s obsession with violence, as Lorde declares, “Glory and gore go hand-in-hand/That’s why we’re making headlines.” As the beat shifts into a hollow clank halfway through, Lorde sounds as world-weary as ever, but the spirited cries of the hook are downright contagious.
8. Still Sane – Her voice smoky and restrained, Lorde touches upon the “all work and no play” craziness of her teenage existence and reflects upon the duality of fame and legacy. On an album in which Lorde rarely sounds like she’s 16 years old, “Still Sane” is the portrait of someone who knows she has had to grow up too fast but has embraced this abnormality.
9. White Teeth Teens – White teeth teens have no imperfections in the way they present themselves, Lorde argues; however, “the way they are” and “the way they seem” are completely different. Lorde inhabits a doo-wop environment on “White Teeth Teens” until the faded vocals take over on the extended, devastating conclusion.
10. A World Alone – The longest song on “Pure Heroine” is the most ambitious, with a roaring dance beat that circles in and out and Lorde offers a snapshot of her world at large, which is composed of haters, existential musings, endless Internet chatter and the one person with whom she can escape all the judgments. A stunning song and ideal album closer, because, really, nothing here is strong enough to follow “A World Alone.”