The universal themes of love and loss are nothing new to songwriting, but the heart beats much differently in these pieces. Here, Vantage rounds up three records that tug at the strings of longing and regret. Whether it’s Lorde’s post-party reflections, HAIM’s wishful lyrics, or Kesha’s wild anthems, you’re sure to hear something that throws back to past (or present) emotions.
Bliss and consequence: Melodrama by Lorde
Since shunning celebrity luxury in Pure Heroine (2013), Lorde’s been stripped of her cool detachment from teenage folly, but not of the poetry in her lyrics. And so, Melodrama (2016) lives up to its name. As the album walks us through a house party, the heart sways in opposing directions. The drama accompanying these mood swings haunts you throughout the record.
Lorde knows why you’re dancing in the first place: To move on triumphantly (“Green Light”); or for a quick release, rules aside (“Sober”). Standout track “The Louvre” is the album’s happiest, about a love worthy of museums. Yet Melodrama remains an expertly curated picture of cause and effect with regard to the heart. “The Louvre” fades right into “Liability,” where she croons about being hurt by former lovers—and that’s just one example of how she weaves story through song on this lineup.
It’s classic Lorde to risk sonic and lyrical experiments. Pure Heroine had her rasping over ambient synths and pounded rhythms—the kind that made “Royals” a hit among more upbeat pop singles. This time, however, she’s swapped fancy production for her first piano ballads (“Liability,” “Writer in the Dark”). “Hard Feelings/Loveless” merges two different songs (one about a failed relationship and the other about wreaking havoc on one) on the same track, providing an ebb and flow to the album’s momentum. Melodrama is even bridged with pensive interludes like “Sober II” and “Liability (Reprise).” Though shorter than the other jams on this roster, the interludes reinforce gaps in the narrative, showcasing Lorde as a first-rate songwriter.
Still, Melodrama’s greatest experiment is its emotional concept in comparison to Lorde’s earlier work. Do you grow up when you grow more vulnerable? This record says that maybe you do, much more so.
Longing painted lightly: Something to Tell You by HAIM
HAIM’s sophomore record is exactly what you’d expect from them: The three sisters singing harmonies over retro-inspired instrumentals. It’s a great formula, one that made their debut Days are Gone (2013) a cult favorite. Without much innovation on Something to Tell You (2017), however, the novelty has worn off. And while Days are Gone had edgy gems like “My Song 5” to temper the overall bounce, the songs in this new album melt into each other a little too smoothly. Telling one track apart from the next then becomes a challenge.
Against Melodrama, Something to Tell You also pales lyrically. HAIM dwells on the lighter side of longing, and that’s perfectly fine, except when the rhetoric is common and the words overused. “Give me just a little of your love, baby,” sing the sisters for almost half of “Little of Your Love.” It’s the same story on “Nothing’s Wrong” as well as “Ready for You,” and to a lesser extent on other tracks—lyrics as fillers rather than in-depth explorations of a relationship’s before and after.
The sisters touch on subjects such as hidden feelings, regret over an ex, attraction to a crush—and everything is reasonably catchy. The album is a great coffee shop listen—the type you play in the background and half-listen to, half-ignore as you go on about your day. You can still count on HAIM for chipper tunes that will, ironically, make you want to groove to heartbreak. It’s a shame that the emotional impact is dampened by the same few lines repeated throughout a song. “Could you tell me nothing’s wrong?” they ask, and there isn’t an answer to that. The problem lies in how nothing in Something to Tell You feels outstandingly right, nor sounds truly memorable.
After the storm: Rainbow by Kesha
After a fierce legal battle with producer Dr. Luke over allegations of sexual assault and harassment, Kesha released Rainbow (2017), writing about her anguish after such a traumatic period of her life. Rainbow is the record to go to when trying to move on from a traumatic ex as she tells her story of healing from a horrid experience with anthemic jams and feminist statements glittered all over the album.
Songs like “Bastards” and “Learn to Let Go” highlight her release from her past, and her jaunt into the next phase of her life. Kesha’s heart broke into pieces, but it has healed 10 times stronger than before. The strength she possesses both in her character and her musical choices throughout the album resonates with a post-heartbreak middle finger to the air.
The record still screams Kesha—with her language still uncouth and the beats still danceable—but now presents her as a more mature artist with added reason into her music. Compared to the two prior albums, Kesha chose instead to shatter heartbreak with her brand of femme fatale. Her track with The Dap-Kings Horns, “Woman,” fully encapsulates the artist she has become as well as her comeback from agony. She masterfully crafts a modern pop bop then releases the tension in the chorus, screaming, “I’m a motherfucking woman, baby.”
All three albums offer a distinct take on the pitfalls of heartbreak, but the truth is that everyone goes through their own experience. Whether you choose to stop and reflect, explore those feelings, or even shrug them off altogether, these crooners are here to help you get through it. Just take your pick and let your heartbeat sync with theirs.
Graphic by China Principe.