Once upon a time, there was a solo artist whose stage name sounded like a band: Marina and the Diamonds. She was well-loved with three successful albums, especially the ambitious Electra Heart.
And then one day she decided to drop the Diamonds and just go by MARINA. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because too many people thought she actually was a band. Maybe there was some symbolism involved I don’t know about. Either way, Marina and the Diamonds was now MARINA and she was set to release her first album in four years.
LOVE + FEAR is ambitious in the same way Electra Heart was. However, while Electra Heart was the story of a fictitious woman and a criticism of society, LOVE + FEAR is a double album focused on the two emotions that drive MARINA most. Three guesses as to which emotions those are.
The album is split into two “sides,” so to speak. Obviously, in the age of streaming, there are no physical sides here. But figuratively, Side A is LOVE and Side B is FEAR. Both sides are excellent, but I definitely prefer FEAR. It, I think, is where the diamonds are.
The sound of the album is a mix of The Family Jewels are FROOT. The influence of MARINA’s older style makes this album a huge step up from 2015’s effort. It’s real and raw while retaining a crystalline pop edge. There’s not a single song on this record that doesn’t have merit.
Now let’s get into the themes are lyrical content. LOVE is all about, what else, relationships and positivity. There’s “Superstar,” a song about valuing your partner, and “Baby,” a woeful tale with Latin flair about the one that got away. “Orange Tree” is filled with nostalgia, while “Handmade Heaven” is about appreciating what you have.
My favorite song on LOVE is easily “End of the Earth.” It’s dark, but shows MARINA utterly devoted to her partner. It’s a post-apocalyptic declaration of love.
FEAR is all about self-doubt and people who have hurt MARINA. “Too Afraid” finds her fearful of moving on because it’s easier to stay behind for someone. “No More Suckers” is an anthem about cutting off the people who use you. “You” is a delicate track about realizing your partner doesn’t know you the way they think they do.
My two favorite tracks on FEAR are “Karma” and “Emotional Machine.” “Karma” is an upbeat song about seeing someone who screwed you over get their comeuppance. It’s so fun to sing along to. “Emotional Machine” is a haunting confession about how MARINA has cut herself off from her emotions, a defense mechanism born from pain in her past. MARINA’s voice becomes a tornado siren on the chorus and it’s so ominous and cool.
“Believe in Love” serves as the thesis of the record, while “Soft to Be Strong” is the clear conclusion. “Believe in Love” is about that struggle to fight through cynicism and find lasting love. “Soft to Be Strong” is about realizing you need to be vulnerable and kind to truly be strong. Shielding yourself is not the answer— being emotionally available is.
And the vocals? Why, they’re as ethereal as ever. MARINA has such a unique voice. I’ve never heard anyone else sound even remotely close to her. And that’s on display on LOVE + FEAR.
Once upon a time, MARINA released one of the best albums of 2019. Yes, I said best. I’ve been listening to this album on repeat since it came out. And, while I prefer FEAR to LOVE, it’s not by that wide a margin. LOVE + FEAR is a fantastic record and I will not stop singing its praises. MARINA deserves all the awards for it. The end.