‘Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land’ review: MARINA gets up close and political

Welsh singer MARINA (formerly Marina and the Diamonds) is certainly no stranger to playing personas in her music. Since her debut in 2010, we’ve seen the Hollywood-loving cheerleader from ‘The Family Jewels’, the femme fatale of ‘Electra Heart’ and the awakened free spirit of ‘FROOT’.

And on her fifth album, ‘Ancient Dreams In a Modern Land’, for the first time, MARINA is bringing all these worlds together. The video for newly-released single ‘Venus Fly Trap’ sees the singer give each of these characters a Starring Role, culminating in a scene where modern day MARINA watches the Hollywood sign go up in flames—how’s that as a middle finger to fame?

Having taken a detour with her last album Love + Fear, fans have been clamouring for MARINA to make a return to the vibrant sounds of her earlier work, and MARINA wastes no time showing her return to form. The opening title track, a sinister combination of Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed A Girl’ and Britney Spears’ ‘Womanizer’, sees MARINA as Mother Nature ruminating on the plight of the modern world over a huge, falsetto-flaunting chorus reminiscent of early tracks like ‘Mowgli’s Road’.

But MARINA isn’t just looking back and drawing from the familiar, she’s showing new sides too. The blistering ‘Purge The Poison’ sees the singer at her punkiest, holding nothing back with lyrics like “Need to purge the poison, show us our humanity / All the bad and good, racism and misogyny / Nothing’s hidden anymore, capitalism made us poor / God, forgive America for every single war”.

Elsewhere, privilege is a central theme in ‘New America’ as she sings in the pre-chorus: “You got a white picket fence and your dad’s got a gun / And when you see the police, there’s no reason to run / You got a job, and a car, and a good dental plan / You got health insurance, pocket money, damn”. Where she looked at America with wide-eyed wonder in 2010’s ‘Hollywood’, here she’s privy to its less than glamorous fault lines.

The singsongy ‘I Love You But I Love Me More’ sees MARINA becomes the self-loving Venus Fly Trap she earlier sang about, and is undoubtedly one of the album’s high points. This song, along with moments like the title track, make the case for MARINA to experiment with an all-out rock record. It’s clear that’s not her aim here—the ballads on ‘Ancient Dreams’ suggest a fondness for the slow, fragile moments too. It’s a move that makes more sense upon repeat listens: moments of peace and escape from the heavier subject matter of the album’s first half.

As the curtains fall with the introspective ‘Goodbye’, MARINA addresses her old self, a fitting conclusion to an album with two distinct, yet often intersecting themes: the personal and the political. ‘Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land’ makes a strong case that the two are hardly divergent.

Listen to ‘Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land’ and this week’s juiciest tunes on our New Music Friday playlist below:

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