Can somebody stop the ridiculous flow of time, please? Gaga’s ‘The Fame Monster’ has turned 10 years old, The Killers’ ‘Day & Age’ is now eleven, and now, Marina’s debut, ‘The Family Jewels’, joins the decade-old club.
For an entire decade we’ve been blessed with Marina! Ten whole years, 3650 days, and countless minutes spent listening to her simultaneous high and low notes. With four studio albums under her belt, a slight name change and a hardcore fanbase, Marina’s proved that she isn’t going anywhere. But, for now, let’s take a little peek at where Marina’s singing career began, with her wondrously weird debut, ‘The Family Jewels’.
I distinctly remember listening to Marina for the first time. A wee 15-year-old Jack, talking to a school friend on MSN Messenger (RIP MSN, you’re still missed), with her sending me tracks from this weird-sounding artist Marina and the Diamonds. Was it a band? A singer? A pseudonym for a virus she was going to send me? I had no idea, but I was coloured intrigued.
The first track I heard was ‘I Am Not A Robot’, and I instantly fell in love. Those high notes, man! This girl (or band, or virus, whatever) could siiiiiing. Those delicate piano notes, tongue-in-cheek lyrics and obscure theme were unlike anything I’d ever heard before (back then, I mainly listened to emo rock because I apparently had all the feels).
‘I Am Not A Robot’ remains one of my absolute favourite Marina tracks to this day. The production is squeaky clean, her vocals are heavenly, and the song itself is catchy as hell. There’s just something so special about it, and it’s no wonder that it propelled the start Marina Diamindis’ career.
Next up was ‘Mowgli’s Road’ and… I didn’t like it. I know, I know, I’ve repented my sins and listened to it a fuck load since – it’s one of my fave Marina tracks of all time – but 15-year-old me was a moron, basically. It was too weird, too abstract and I just didn’t really get it. I just wanted to bop along to some catchy beats man. A decade on, and ‘Mowgli’s Road’ is amazing, and I haven’t really heard another song in that entire time to compare it to. It’s bizarre, but brilliant. It encapsulates Marina’s creativity and quirk which many old-school fans wish she’d return to.
‘Obsessions’ was the last track I listened to. Way back then, I thought it was a catchy little tune that showcased her voice wonderfully. But that was that, and I didn’t pay the track much heed nor delved much further into the album. Why was this strange lady singing about buying crackers? What was going on? Lemme whack on some My Chemical Romance and sit in my angst, ‘kay? Again, ironically, ‘Obsessions’ is one of my favourite Marina tracks now. Tackling issues of mental health and stigmatised women’s roles, Marina was dealing with the heavy stuff before it was cool.
Like many, ‘Electra Heart’ was where I properly became a Marina fan. ‘Living Dead’ was the track that got me into her, reading my friend’s angsty Facebook post surrounded by bubblegum hearts forcing me to Google it, and low and behold, it was this weird cracker-singing lady. And the rest is history. She’s now one of my most listened to artists of all time, and I finally got to see her live!
But I digress. Back to ‘The Family Jewels’. It’s more than a vapid entry of pop music to launch a career. ‘TFJ’ deals with some pretty heavy themes, man, although it’s dressed up in bubblegum and satire. From exploring the issues with commercialism and capitalism with ‘Oh No!’ (what a tune, amirite?) to disclosing her elusive family issues with ‘Rootless’, it actually offers a pretty real insight into Marina’s mindset back when she was writing the album, which is rare for a debut.
Sonically, ‘The Family Jewels’ is superb. From the eerie ‘cuckoos’ on ‘Mowgli’s Road’ to the ethereal piano on ‘I Am Not A Robot’, each track flows cohesively – without it becoming too stale or familiar.
Marina stated that she wanted the record to enable the listener to “question themselves”, and it certainly does just that. From relationship issues to commercialism, it allows us to evaluate our own lens on life by experiencing Marina herself doing just that. The album itself has a sense of self-awareness about it, the irony of someone making it big while declaring that they’re “obsessed with the mess that’s America” isn’t lost on the listener.
On that note, ‘Hollywood’ is an iconic track that’s grown on me tenfold over time. Hearing it live at the ‘Love + Fear’ tour was an experience in itself. ‘Are You Satisfied?’ goes in deep, asking probing questions about dreams and goals and life itself.
Overall, ‘The Family Jewels’ is a special, unique album. It’s filled with quirk and savviness, little self-aware winks to the consumer, all while tackling over-reaching themes that aren’t viewed through a highly-serious lens, despite the weight of whatever topic she’s exploring.
Many Diamonds wish Marina would return to her roots (but she’s rootless, get it?), but I think ‘The Family Jewels’ is something Marina’s used a solid foundation to build the rest of her music upon. ‘Love + Fear’ is a great album, though its in stark contrast to her debut. Being blessed with Marina in our lives (and ears) for the past ten years, we’ve watched her grow and grow from each and every record. As a lifelong Diamond, I can’t wait to see what the next ten years will bring.