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Summer album roundup: the late-2000s pop star strikes back

Pop music is back with vengeance this summer, led by three women who are breathing new life into the moniker for the 2010s: Lorde, Lana Del Rey and Kesha. How do their latest albums stack up?

“Melodrama,” Lorde (4.5/5)

Considering the cultural impact of Lorde’s debut album “Pure Heroine” (2013), evidenced by her minimalist sound currently all over radio, her follow-up was always going to be judged with intense scrutiny. “Melodrama” exceeds expectations by expanding the now 20-year-old’s sound as she documents the highs and lows of a single house party. This loose album structure allows Lorde the ability to navigate the uneven emotional terrain that comes with youth; capturing heartbreak, hedonism, isolation, sarcasm and resilience all within its 11 tracks.

While lead single “Green Light” is the album’s weakest track due to its structural inconsistencies and uninspired house influences, “Melodrama” shines in its following songs. “Sober” and “Homemade Dynamite” offer a one-two punch of ecstasy as Lorde captures the beginning of a night out, filled with lust and excitement. “The Louvre” follows, and it might be the most gorgeous track Lorde has ever recorded, weaving a simple guitar and lush synths to capture the thrill of love.

The rest of “Melodrama” sees Lorde descend back into harsh reality. “Liability” stands out as the requisite forever alone anthem of the album, lamenting “I know that it’s exciting running through the night / But every perfect summer’s eating me alive until you’re gone.” The self-reflection continues on the euphoric “Supercut” as she attempts to piece together her musings on a failed relationship on the dance floor, similar to Robyn’s excellent “Dancing On My Own” (2010). By the time the album’s closing track “Perfect Places” comes around, the listener too is left to ponder, “What the f*** are perfect places anyway?”

Top Picks: “The Louvre,” “Supercut,” “Perfect Places”

“Lust for Life,” Lana Del Rey (4/5)

For a star whose biggest radio hit came from a remix of a song called “Summertime Sadness” (2012), Lana Del Rey has never been happier. Leaving behind the melancholy of her last two albums, “Lust for Life” sees the singer navigate Americana, politics and inspiration in an era where all can seem like lost causes.

The opening to Del Rey’s fourth LP captures the essence of the record as she offers optimism on the majestic, rock inspired “Love” and dream pop influenced “Lust for Life.” The cinematic “13 Beaches” offers a more realistic take on the complexities of fame, confessing “And I’d be lyin’, if I kept hidin’ / The fact that I can’t deal.” She makes a little bit of detour on the hip-hop inspired “Summer Bummer,” an update to the sound of her debut album “Born to Die” (2012), yet the collaboration with A$AP Rocky is a triumph as she and her partner play to the strengths of the woozy trap track.

The rest of “Lust for Life,” however, is not without its uneven patches as her experiment with American imagery on “God Bless America — and All the Beautiful Women in It” falls flat, and “Tomorrow Never Came” fails to allude to the Beatles wisely. Thankfully, closing track “Get Free” succinctly captures Del Rey’s overarching mission on the album, daring to break free of her negative mindset as she pushes “Out of the black (out of the black) / Into the blue (into the blue).”

Top Picks: “13 Beaches,” “Summer Bummer,” “Get Free”

“Rainbow,” Kesha (4/5)

Against all odds, Kesha’s “Rainbow” actually exists. In 2014, Kesha went public against her former producer Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, filing a civil lawsuit for sexual and physical abuse. While the three-year legal battle is still underway, Kesha finally released the follow-up to her sophomore LP “Warrior” (2012), which seeks to be an artistic and personal triumph for the singer who was once unfairly branded as just another party girl.

With the gospel-tinged lead single “Praying,” Kesha is able to release a ballad as a single for the first time in her career and confidently sings of forgiveness, making it all the more devastating when she belts “When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name.” Despite the last few years of her life, Kesha sounds as joyous as ever, keeping on-trend with the electro minimalist “Hymn” and reggae-influenced “Learn to Let Go.” She also sounds inspired in her return to her Nashville country roots, especially in her duet with Dolly Parton on Parton’s famous track “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You),” a song written by Kesha’s own Pebe Sebert. 

Yet if there is one track on “Rainbow” worth listening to, it is the title track. Written while she was in rehab for an eating disorder, the track draws inspiration from The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” (1966) and begins as a simple acoustic track, until it swells and swells to majestic heights. Following all these years of struggle, it seems Kesha really has found her “Rainbow.”

Top Picks: “Praying,” “Rainbow,” “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You)”

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