Album Review: MARINA – Ancient Dreams In A Modern Land (2021)

From the first few seconds of the opening, titular, track to MARINA’s fifth studio album, she sounds like a woman who has regained her voice and rediscovered the punchy sound which projected her to fame several years ago. This is a seismic shift from ‘Love + Fear’, her 2019 album, which came across as boring, formulaic and it felt like she was going through the motions a bit. She has returned to the top of her game.

Indeed, ‘Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land’ has to be one of the singles of the year. It’s fun and has a similar tone to much of the indie rock from the 2000s, but shares the important message that she feels free from constraint. It’s perfect pop rock, which has definitely seen a resurgence over the past 12 months. It’s also felt on ‘Purge The Poison’, which feels like the modern day answer to Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’, both in it’s similar drum beat and energy, but also it’s sweeping lyrical content, including references to ‘capitalism made us poor’ and Britney Spears shaving her head in 2007. The version with Pussy Riot, sadly not included here, is also worth listening to.

She’s never shied away from tricky topics, and much of this album feels inspired by nature, with her taking the position of spokesperson for the natural world. In the title track, she declares “I am the observer, I’m a witness of life, I live in the space between the stars and the sky”. ‘Man’s World’ speaks of Mother Nature putting an end to fights, while ‘Venus Fly Trap’ is of course named after the predatory plant. ‘Highly Emotional People’ takes a more ethereal tone as she looks introspectively and sings about depictions of mental health. This album feels like her manifesto for protecting those who need it, and I’m here for it.

Even the slightly less punchy second half doesn’t feel dull – ‘Goodbye’ is a strong closer, with both dramatic piano and charming synths taking her through her emotional life story, assessing her human progress and practising self-care. ‘I Love You But I Love Me More’ is a break-up banger, and overall the album shows all the sides of her personality. From the deeply personal to the scathingly political, from the tongue-in-cheek empowerment to the sincerely introspective, MARINA wraps it all in shiny foil and presents it as musical brilliance. The less hectic final few tracks are fresh and deep – and show that she can still pull off a ballad as well as a glam rock song.

Few glow-ups have been this dramatic, but ‘Ancient Dreams In a Modern Land’ is simply great.

Ryan’s Rating: 8/10

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