Growing up in public has been a rite of passage for pop stars since at least Frank Sinatra but, as with any classic storyline, what matters is the execution. Lorde, the preternaturally talented New Zealand singer/songwriter who became an international sensation at the age of 17, knows how to execute not only songwriting and public narrative but also a melding of the two. Melodrama, arriving nearly four long years after her 2013 debut, picks up the thread left hanging on Pure Heroine, presenting Lorde as a young woman, not a sullen teenager. Tonally and thematically, it's a considerable shift from Pure Heroine, and Melodrama feels different musically too, thanks in part to Lorde's decision to collaborate with Jack Antonoff, the leader of Fun. and Bleachers who has been nearly omnipresent in 2010s pop/rock. Antonoff's steely signatures -- a reliance on retro synths, a sheen so glassy it glares -- are all over the place on Melodrama but Lorde is unquestionably the auteur of the album, not just because the songs tease at autobiography but because of how it builds upon Pure Heroine. Lorde retains her bookish brooding, but Melodrama isn't monochromatic. "Green Light" opens the proceedings with a genuine sense of exuberance and it's an emotion she returns to often, sometimes reveling in its joy, sometimes adding an undercurrent of melancholy. Sadness bubbles to the surface on occasion, as it does on the stark "Liability," and so does Lorde's penchant for blunt literalism -- "Writer in the Dark," where our narrator sings "bet you rue the day you kissed a writer in the dark," thereby suggesting all of her songs are some kind of autobiography -- but these traits don't occupy the heart of the album. Instead, Lorde is embracing all the possibilities the world has to offer but then retreating to the confines of home, so she can process everything she's experienced. This balance between discovery and reflection gives Melodrama a tension, but the addition of genuine, giddy pleasure -- evident on the neon pulse of "Homemade Dynamite" and "Supercut" -- isn't merely a progression for Lorde, it's what gives the album multiple dimensions.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine