Label: Atlantic Records
Released: 11th June 2021
Marina Diamandis has always been one of the most high-camp, high-concept (and under-appreciated!) pop stars we’ve got. After dropping her eponymous Diamonds in 2019, it felt like she’d lost her way a little bit; ‘Love + Fear’ was missing some of her usual sparkle, save for a couple of outstanding ballads, but ‘Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land’ sees her return to her old self.
It’s wonderfully groovy right from the off, the title-track tapping into old Marina and revisiting the sound of her debut album while kicking it up a notch, its one of her most unabashedly fun and vibrant songs in a while, and lays the foundations for the more socially-charged direction the record takes lyrically.
The first single ‘Man’s World’ is grown-up ‘Electra Heart’, bringing the feminism she’s always been vocal about into her music properly. It’s surprisingly fresh and those signature sublime high notes are always a delight. ‘New America’ picks up where ‘Hollywood’ left off in 2010, proving our Marina always saw the USA’s dirty secrets, and ‘Venus Fly Trap’ is a fun and funky track built around the cheeky “Why be a wallflower when you could be a Venus Fly Trap?” refrain.
If there’s one thing Marina consistently gets right, it’s a good piano ballad. ‘Highly Emotional People’ is a tender moment that scoops up all of the collective emotions we’ve been feeling over the past year and cradles them gently, telling us it’ll all be alright. There’s also ‘Flowers’, the twinkly breakup song about hanging onto someone for longer than they deserved. Tearjerker alert.
‘Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land’ is super self-referential, which is actually really iconic and proves Marina has not only the catalogue but a distinct enough persona to be able to revisit her old selves in a way usually only done by far bigger stars. She’s always nodded to her old eras in concert and never fully shed them, so it makes sense to pay them their dues on record.
Her return to camp is heavily welcomed and the retro Marina and the Diamonds sound is clearly the one that suits her best, but why over a decade into her career do some of her lyrical choices feel so juvenile? ‘Purge The Poison’ is too on the nose and is delivered like a slam poem, and sandwiched between two of the record’s best tracks, it’s highlighted as ‘Ancient Dreams’ biggest misstep. Similarly ‘I Love You But I Love Me More’ is predictable and cliché, and a bit… dare we say… filler.
The difference between her new material and the ‘Electra Heart’ and ‘The Family Jewels’ albums it sonically references is that ‘Ancient Dreams’ takes itself too seriously – songs like ‘Primadonna’ and ‘Bubblegum Bitch’ were genius because they were in on the joke and relished in the ridiculousness; the tracks here don’t harbour that same self-awareness.
‘Goodbye’ saves the day, waving off the album with another gorgeous, dramatic piano ballad. The slamming on the piano keys combined with the falsetto and the string section makes for a glorious theatrical ending that wraps up what’s sure to be another legendary era for Marina.