Album Review: Marina & The Diamonds – The Family Jewels

by Marie Carney on March 15, 2010

I first heard Marina and The Diamonds’ album The Family Jewels in my usual fashion: in the background while I did something else.  It caught enough of my attention that four songs in I turned to YouTube, wanting to know more.  What I found there horrified me. This travesty of a video made me spend the next two days telling everyone who would listen about this horrible woman they should never listen to.  Now it’s three weeks later and per lastfm I have listened to these songs 186 times.  So, what happened? 

I don’t know who’s picking Marina and The Diamonds’ singles, but they need to be fired.  In an album full of hooks and creativity the most generic pop songs were chosen as singles. The Family Jewels‘ first single, “Hollywood”, is just a ridiculous parody of the English’s hatred/fascination with everything American.  In the video there’s big hair, fans, soft focus lenses, cheerleader costumes and a lot of red white and blue.  Musically there’s a girl singing at the bottom of her range in the back of her throat.  Neither are things I will ever recommend.  In fact it was enough to make me almost turn my back on a really great album.

Eventually I remembered that the reason I watched the video was because I had liked the album, and gave it another chance.  It quickly became clear that Marina and The Diamonds was worth my time.  She is a Welsh singer-songwriter bringing the sort of modern dancey-brit-pop I love, full of wit and charm.  And, despite the throaty-ness, her voice is really great.  Her range is impressive and strong, and once you get used to the darker tone it is really quite appealing.  As a whole the album is strong, and even though my initial reactions to some songs, such as singles “Hollywood” and “Mowgli’s Road” were weak, they are really like those mediocre tracks on any album that grow on you and it’s the fact that they were considered singles by someone that makes them so unappealing.

Out of all the great songs on the album, “Oh No!” should have been the first single.  It is catchy and upbeat and espouses the main lyrical theme of the album: that determination, hard work and sheer will is what it takes to become a successful artist.  It may not be the most glamorous or relatable of topics, but it is so honest and heartfelt I find myself singing along “I know exactly what I want and who I want to be” loudly and securely, though I’m sure this is a sentiment I have never felt in real life.  The energy of the song is so infectious you just can’t help yourself.

Other songs like “Girls” and album opener “Are You Satisfied?” continue the theme, making me relish in ideas that are polar opposite of my actual personality.  On “Girls” she talks about thinking like a man and disapproving of women and their shallow opinions. “Girls they never befriend me ’cause I fall asleep when they speak of all the calories they eat” is a bit harsh, but any woman, even one who talks about nothing but calories, understands the frustration inherent in female relationships where it can be more of a fight and a contest than something supportive.  Taking a song that should be offensive to most women and turning it into a strange battle-cry.  “Are You Satisfied?” asks the seemingly simple question of “Are you satisfied with an average life?” to which the overwhelming answer is no.  And again, even though I’d say her primary audience does lead an average life, it is somehow not insulting coming from her.  More like a interrogation and invitation to look deeper within.

Marina is obviously a very driven and opinionated person, but the music is good enough that it keeps it from seeming self-righteous and pompous, she’s just being who she is.  It’s nice to take this ride to a self-assured universe with Marina and The Diamonds.  For forty-two minutes I get to leave all my awkwardness and insecurity behind and pretend I am a powerful woman.

Song to Download:  “Oh No!”

Song to Skip when Shuffling:  “Numb”

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

raffi March 15, 2010 at 8:47 pm

if i didn’t know better I would have thought this album was from the 70s…everything about the cover is the 70s!


raffi March 15, 2010 at 8:47 pm

ok or early 80s haha


Marie Carney March 15, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Don’t you know the 80’s are in again? There’s even a song that sounds like Enya… probably should have mentioned that in the review. Ha ha.


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