It’s easy to find reasons to begrudge Lorde. She’s 17, for one, and already a runaway success. Her debut album “Pure Heroine,” released in late September 2013, is an international hit. The New Zealander is giving her older, more experienced peers a run for their money right out of the gate.
It makes more sense to view the album as individual songs than as a collective work: “Team,” is driving, effortless; a beautiful showcase of Lorde’s vocal ability and charisma. It’s also one of the many references to growing up, which she handles ham-handedly. Lorde seems certain she’s lived the experience of a much older woman, building up a front of apathy about the glamor of the music industry while flaunting what she sees as her own maturity. Mentions of late nights and liquor bottles glide off her tongue but come out awkward.
“400 Lux” is a brighter moment, not as interesting musically but much more believable. It’s basically a hipster Taylor Swift song, lines like “you drape your wrists over the steering wheel/pulses can drive from here” as abundant as they are sweet. Lorde does girl-in-love exquisitely.
Far and away the best track on “Pure Heroine” is its closer, “A World Alone.” It’s the realest thing about the record. Lorde strips off the tough-chick faade to sing frankly about being a member of the internet generation, friends who experiment too much and the fragility of young relationships. Perhaps the most honest moment comes when she croons that her friends are “studying business, I study the floor, and you haven’t stopped smoking all night.” This is the clearest image. This is a teenager looking for sense in the world she’s clumsily growing up in.
“Pure Heroine” is a mixed bag. There are moments that soar, moments where her sultry voice is utterly captivating. That’s one thing Lorde has going for her above all else: she sounds like she should be curled up on a velvet sofa in the back of some exclusive club surrounded by affluent young friends smoking cigars. But that’s precisely what make this a difficult record. She dismisses the validity of her own career, claiming she doesn’t care when it’s blatantly obvious that she does.
Lorde is a self-proclaimed feminist. Lorde is fast-becoming an internationally famous popstar. Lorde is, good or bad, relevant. And “Pure Heroine” – apathy, cockiness, vulnerability and all – is an accurate snapshot of the version of pop culture that trickles down to those who buy the records.