Marina’s music has always been slightly out of the usual pop. Her lyrics are witty and full of social commentary. Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land is no exception – in fact, it surpasses her previous works. Whereas before a lot of her commentary was implicit or spoken through the character of Electra Heart in the eponymous album, this album is explicitly political and personal throughout. There are bops and heartfelt ballads, and overall, the album feels emotionally mature. There is a confidence emanating from Marina that has been developing since her first album. Here, she’s open about the frustration and hurt she feels, and isn’t scared to call out ills that she sees in the world. Don’t be fooled though – although its lyrics aren’t light-hearted, the songs are catchy and I, for one, have been listening to them on repeat. Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land delivers a cohesive aesthetic visually and sonically and, as always, Marina is thoroughly herself: dramatic, honest, yet somehow cautious.
The album starts with “Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land”, and the drumbeat is simple but works well with her articulate pronunciation; she wants you to hear the lyrics and the message they deliver. The pre-chorus is snappy and honestly could be used for positive affirmations. Whereas in songs like “I Am Not a Robot” Marina uses “you” to seemingly talk to herself, the “you” in the pre-chorus here feels far more like a friend trying to encourage another friend. It’s reassuring and rebellious. It’s part of a recurring theme in the album of self-acceptance and empowerment. In the next song “Venus Fly Trap” she declares that she “got the beauty, got the brains, got the power, hold the reigns”. In her heartbreak ballads, she continually asserts her worth and that she won’t take the pain of a bad relationship anymore just to save it. One song is literally titled “I Love You but I Love Me More”. She is self-assured and confident and wants the world to know it. “Venus Fly Trap” is also a perfect example of her word play and desire to challenge societal norms; she plays with the idea of wallflowers, and I wonder if she chose Venus fly trap as the alternative because of the reference to Roman goddess of love and beauty, Venus. It links incredibly well to the concept of an ancient land and the modern dreams of what Marina is trying to embody.
“Goodbye” is probably my favourite song on the album; the line “I’ve been a mother to everyone else, every motherfucker apart from myself, and I don’t even have any kids” is so poignant. The music dies down after the first half of the line and Marina sounds so mournful and wistful, as she does in the rest of the song. She has regrets about her life and is saying goodbye to who she used to be. It’s one of the most relatable songs on the album, both in the experience and the sentient she creates; she switches between happy and sad, encapsulating the bittersweet nature of looking back at yourself and how you’ve changed.
Marina’s lyrics have always told her audience about herself, but this album goes further than before. She sings about her struggles with drugs and alcohol, about heartbreak, anxiety and depression and makes frequent references, both explicit and implicit, to going crazy. Something which she is exceptionally explicit about is her political views. In “Purge the Poison” she embodies the voice of Mother Nature to highlight the importance of the planet and the damage being done to it. In the pre-chorus she calls out racism, sexism and capitalism. In “Man’s World” she sings about homophobia and her frustration of living under the patriarchy. She is angry, and justifiably so, and I’m glad that she chose to include it in her album. She’s using her platform for good, which is admirable.
This album makes sense; it’s a clear evolution from her previous works. The melodies and backing tracks are clearly her style. She makes full use of her very impressive vocal range and never sacrifices her message to mass appeal. In many ways she doesn’t have to; she has a knack for combining social commentary with upbeat tracks all packaged with earworm lyrics. Her aesthetic is developed and coherent, and as always, she is colourful and vibrant. Even the cassette of the album comes in three different colours with glitter. The best part of the album, as I think is normally the case for her, is the lyrics. Every album is a different era for Marina; there is a continuity between them, but they are all distinct. It’s something great about her because you never know exactly what to expect. But I hope that her next album will break the trend and remain in this era.