Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land isn’t MARINA’s strongest album lyrically, but sonically it’s still a fun listen.
Marina (stylized as MARINA) is not the same girl you remember from her 2012 breakout album Electra Heart. Latching onto tumblr-tinged politics and the divine feminine — though Marina’s “divinity” reads more “girlboss” — Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land is a bold return to the sound that first made her famous.
After receiving poor fan reception for her 2019 release Love + Fear, an album which also confirmed the dropping of “+ the Diamonds” from her stage name, Marina steers Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land back to familiar tonal territory. Always maintaining a theatrical air, the electro-pop singer utilizes synth and stabbing verses with a confidence reminiscent of her “Primadonna” era. But don’t get it twisted, this Marina would never collaborate with Dr. Luke again, because ultimately, this album is an attempt at social criticism.
The album opens with eponymous track “Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land,” which combines rapid-fire hooks with a thumping bass as Marina preaches “You don’t have to fit in the norm / You are not here to conform.” With the album as her pedestal, Marina cycles through a wide range of contemporary issues: everything from colonization (“New America”) to the coronavirus (“Purge the Poison”) pops up here. Almost as if checking off a to-do list, one topic after another is mentioned, all against layered electronic beats with little elaboration. But in fairness, there are some broad themes Marina addresses with more conviction throughout the album: feminism and the struggle against misogyny being a primary focus on tracks such as “Man’s World,” “Venus Fly Trap,” and breakup ballad “I Love You But I Love Me More.”
But Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land is as front-loaded with hits as it is with hypocrisy. Referring to herself as a “millionairess” in “Venus Fly Trap” before later declaring that “capitalism made us all poor” in “Purge the Poison,” these contradictions reaffirm the superficiality of Marina’s lyrics. They are catchy, of course, and the production calls back to fan-favorite The Family Jewels (2010) while the colorful album art nods to Froot (2015). It’s a brash effort to reconnect with fans by not only re-adopting her experimental pop sound and look (though from a decidedly more mature angle), but also by addressing relevant topics such as the #MeToo movement.
However, the album seems to shift its intention in the back half, pivoting from intense political commentary in “New America” to longing vocals set against a rolling cello in “Pandora’s Box.” Indeed, the final four tracks find Marina focusing inward, narrating vulnerable and intimate moments between her and a partner: sometimes a lover, sometimes herself. The shift in tone is noticeable, and the transformation from carnivorous “venus fly trap” to heartbroken “almost psycho” contributes to this portion of the album being easily overlooked. But despite the lack of throaty braggadocio, final four tracks “Pandora’s Box,” “I Love You But I Love Me More,” “Flowers,” and “Goodbye” hold their own and even seem more true to the artist. At 35 years old, Marina Diamandis has experienced a life worth reflecting on, and it’s time for her to say “goodbye to the girl [she] was“.
So while there is no doubt that Marina is a legitimately politically-conscious individual, Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land still misses more than it hits with its mouthy political commentary. Despite the distinct effort in the album’s back half to assert a different narrative, it’s too invested in broad strokes — Marina needs stronger focus and elaboration if she wants to indulge such topicality with nuance. Though not her strongest lyrical effort, Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land almost makes up for such shortcomings with catchy melodies, energetic dance pop, and Marina’s trademark dramatic vocal flair. Hopefully her next release will better capture the new self she is seeking to realize.
Published as part of Album Roundup — June 2021 | Part 3.