Ancient Dreams In a Modern Land is not only a return to form for Marina, but on top of that it has surprised itself positively on several occasions. If we don't necessarily find the prowess of the beginnings, on the other hand we quickly forget Love+Fear.
We feel the Welsh singer-songwriter Marina reinvigorated, as some important things that were cruelly missing on her previous and disappointing album Love + Fear. First of all, this hint of madness, as well as this contagious energy as essential ingredients. Let's say it's something palpable, like a metamorphosis as much musically as lyrically. Marina is a specimen, which could be described as a kind of superstar in aesthetics without really being one, but with the advantage of an extraordinary artist. There are no two Marina's, the one and only one breathes eccentricity and this absolutely atypical personality. Between fascination and passion, Marina also distinguishes herself from the others besides her appearance and her personality by a musical signature just as coherent, which fits her like a glove. Marina is an entrepreneur, an element that is reflected in her career and in the depth of her music. It is in 2009 that Marina manages to stand out, thanks to the help of a contest that allows her to find agreements with labels to release her first and delicious album in 2010, The Family Jewels, even reaching the Gold certification. Everything then went very fast, as much in the success as in its evolution, as she quickly abandoned a Pop style for an Electro Pop/ Dance- Pop sprinkled with New Wave to support her fantastic mezzo-soprano voice, with Electra Heart and Froot.
From this period on, Marina has always known how to build concepts around her albums, like a backbone. We begin to feel her ease to talk about humans and the emotions they feel, through a writing either intimate, introspective or more impersonal, as a kind of psychotherapy in full size. After a series of successful albums, notably thanks to the themes oriented around her mental health, Marina tackled a more ambitious concept with Love+Fear in 2019, which she didn't know how to exploit properly, as if she had lost this personality that made a big part of the charm of her music. This new album Ancient Dreams In a Modern Land sounds like a return to the source on several points. We already find in the cover and the general imagery the surreal eccentricity that she had put aside on Love+Fear with this black and white cover, where the singer posed in a hyper natural way. On top of that, there was a lack of coherence between the soundscapes and the evoked themes. On the contrary, Ancient Dreams In a Modern Land naturally finds this freedom, without losing at the same time its madness and its conscience. For the blow, this new opus explores the concept of discriminations and injustices around women or even more widely to LGBT individuals. A fight that Marine is already leading in parallel to her music for some time now
The eponymous introduction sets the scene for a more spiritual and philosophical subject. Using a musical formula she is familiar with, based on Electro Pop/Dance Pop, Marina plunges you into the adventure by orienting the context around some space-time defying things. These first words are the illustration: "Our ancestors had to fight to survive / Just so we could have a chance of a life / We're not here so we can blow it all". It is globally a great introduction, as much musically, by the writing or by the thematic that advocates precisely for self-acceptance. Moreover to go further, musically the chorus is an indirect tribute to Womanizer by Britney Spears, one of her greatest influence.the fist of honor is not long, since Venus Fly Trap comes to consolidate the theme with confidence and character, since Marina is staged in the skin of an oppressed person to show all her self-confidence. This time, Venus Fly Trap emerges on a very New Wave soundscape, groovy and energetic enough. However, this song doesn't do without its "rock" side, as an ingredient that can be compared metaphorically to the fight it leads towards its concept. Man's World also breathes in the same way. Marina creates an emancipating atmospheric pop rock, to support the aspect of freedom and independence from the stalkers. From the very beginning of Ancient Dreams In a Modern Land, one can feel a form of contagious optimism that is directly different from the more cerebral concept of Love+Fear. Although Marina is not at her first attempts, the Pop Rock aesthetic is like the great novelty that this album proposes. Purge The Poison uses her mezzo-soprano voice to deliver a Power Pop/ Glam Rock/ New Wave fusion influenced by the first half of the 70's, very eccentric as Russell Mael of the Sparks could do at the time.
If Purge The Poison is articulated around absolutely feminine subject, the second part of enlarged your other horizons. And it is really the case to say it. Unexpectedly, the second part of Ancient Dreams In Modern Land is oriented towards more pop ballads. First, there is Highly Emotional People, a break-up song that alludes to her recent history. An unpredictable musical counterpoint, which reminds of Marina's early days, really consolidating the fact that the electronic parts have become very secondary on this new album. On Highly Emotional People, only this triumphant synthesizer reigns over the emotional depth of this delightful song. Moreover more globally the second part of the album is very oriented around her recent breakup, as well as by her reconstruction. I Love You But I Love Me More is a more explicit and rock version of Highly Emotional People, Flowers evokes broken hearts and Goodbye is an introspective conclusion, using nostalgia to successfully act out her rebirth for a new chapter of her life.
However, when we discover at the beginning of the album, we say to ourselves that Highly Emotional People will be an exception, since the album goes on with New America, a Pop Rock song combining the 70s and the 2000s, very politicized as its name indicates on an analysis of the American model. An extra time for Marina to support her ideas and her commitment on this album, where the subjects, although varied at the root, come together as a kind of correlation on the idea of acceptance, differences and personal success. But finally except New America and I Love You But I Love Me More, the globality is marked by ballads. You will find this warm orchestration on Pandora's Box or on Goodbye, which reminds a bit of Lana Del Rey . What I really love about the whole idea is that the beginning starts out very fast, like a confident fight against discrimination, but all of a sudden like the way the album turns out, Marina is stopped in her tracks. It is at this moment that her personal life takes over, that the tone changes notably because of this striking rupture.
While Love+Fear is the longest album of her repertoire, Ancient Dreams In a Modern Land is the shortest, with an experience not exceeding 36 minutes on 10 concise tracks. I think that Marina wanted to opt for a percussive adventure, where one retains the essential by a rigorously mastered content. I can also think that this is also a kind of limit, especially when her globality is not up to her best projects. We couldn't say anything if it was the opposite. The construction of the album "separated" in 2 distinctive parts, a first one more energetic and a second one which approaches mostly ballads, is an excellent idea, notably because we are taken totally by surprise finally. On the other hand, it's a pity, although it's not a huge mistake, to have been able to enjoy the 4 singles released beforehand which occupy respectively the first 4 tracks of the album, spoiling almost all the energetic songs. Besides the fact that we knew 40% of the album before its release, imagine a listener who thought he was going to hear Venus Fly Trap or Purge The Poison, but who is finally forced to listen to piano ballads that have nothing to do with it. It's double or nothing, cold shower or pleasant surprise. In fact the limits of this album according to me are simply explained by the musical content intrinsically. Let's summarize, the concept is successful, the surprise is also very interesting, the new musical directions and the writing too, the production is nice. On the other hand, although the eponymous song and Venus Fly Trap stand out, Marina has proved in the past that she could do better, as much on the highlights as on the whole album. Frankly, the whole is good, the ballads too even if it is not really on this niche that Marina blossoms musically, however although she comes out invigorated by this new album, there are some things that we can no longer find in her that made her strength at the beginning.