The Spinoff Music team weighs in on Lorde’s new single.
‘Perfect Places’ is the last song of the party which Lorde’s forthcoming Melodrama is loosely knitted around. It’s the fervent heartfelt anthem to be slurred between the outdoor confessors and belted out on the dancefloor by the drunk and the high before the host pulls the plug and opens the front door, tiredly smiling by the exit.
It’s the end of the album, the end of the party and the end of that time in your life when your friends are the world and parties feel like life and death. “I’m 19 and I’m on fire,” Lorde sings, but the high is fading. The “perfect places” where you hope drink and drugs and sex will take you are turning out to be an illusion. The “headlines and the weather” that she hates and is trying to escape from are, unfortunately, real. (That the song is released on the day the US announced its exit from the Paris Agreement gives these lines a heavier weight they might have on any other day.)
Listeners who were confounded by the anthemic electro-pop of ‘Green Light’ and the piano balladry of ‘Liability’ will find some comfort in the opening verses, where Lorde sings over clipped beats and minimal synths, calling back to the mostly abandoned sounds of ‘Team’ and ‘Royals’. But when the chorus breaks, it opens up to its anthemic heights, taking you where you want to go with ringing piano chords, buzzing synths and multi-tracked walls of voices.
While ‘Green Light’ played with expectation, taking you where it wanted you, ‘Perfect Places’ takes you exactly where you hope it will, taking you up and then higher still, before closing with Lorde and a piano. The coda hints at both the loneliness of ‘Liability’ and the opening of ‘Green Light’ where she’s doing her make-up, ordering drinks and kissing on the dancefloor. The break-up was fresh and the night was young. On ‘Perfect Places’ she’s over the relationship. She’s tried losing herself and found that it’s impossible. And the harsh morning light of the outside world is about to rise.
Perfect Places is the last track on Melodrama and it’s a big anthemic note to end on, in classic Jack Antonoff style. This is a man who prizes teenage nostalgia so highly he had his childhood bedroom installed in a trailer, and took it on tour with him. It makes him an obvious collaborator for Lorde, but my sense is he may have overstepped his behind-the-scenes role a bit on this one, with his influence more immediately obvious than on ‘Green Light’ or ‘Liability’. The verse may be squarely in Pure Heroine territory, with a bit of digital effect for that fresh 2017 feel, but the singalong call-to-arms chorus is straight out of a Fun (sorry, stylised: “fun.”) song. It is also strongly reminiscent of Snakehips’ Tinashe/Chance collab ‘All My Friends’, both musically and lyrically. Big choruses like this one, many of them written by Antonoff, abound on pop radio – but I guess every album’s got to have one!
One of the strongest parts of ‘Royals’ was the collective “we” – the sense that Lorde was speaking not just for herself or her group of friends, but for a generation. It became a trend in pop in 2014, then it died, but now Lorde has brought it back and it works.
‘Perfect Places’ is an anthem for those who are young and unsure of their place in the world. It’s an acknowledgment that sometimes the world feels messed up and the only way to deal with it is to escape into some booze or the arms of a stranger.
The verses start with Lorde telling her story as a young woman dealing with sudden life as an international pop star (but with far more poetry than that car crash from Liam Payne). But when the chorus kicks in, the “I” becomes a “we” (“We are young and we’re ashamed”).
‘Perfect Places’ is a glorious popstravaganza that captures Lorde at her best: thoughtful, melancholic, poetry and saying what her peers are thinking.
These new Lorde songs have really been hitting a nerve, and I know I’m not alone in this. It’s a common theme I’ve noticed among most of my 20-something friends who are also stumbling their way through new jobs, changing friendships and life in new places. Knowing this is the final song on Melodrama, it definitely had me feeling the need to emotionally prepare for whatever kind of introspective reaction ‘Perfect Places’ might evoke. Well, good thing I was prepared, because this song will have even more drunk girls crying and clutching their best friends at 3am than ‘Liability’. The choir-like chorus mirrors the fizzling out of a party we’ve all been to, the raw lyrics are more descriptive than you might want them to be, and the beat is interesting enough to balance out the emo stuff out and create some kind of light at the end of the tunnel.
‘Perfect Places’ is a cruel reminder that no amount of drugs or alcohol will make you feel better about whatever you’re trying to wish away, and that’s a sobering thought indeed.
‘Perfect Places’ feels like what happens when you accept that last-minute invite to a party where you don’t know many people, but you need to get out from your own head so you go and dance and drink and, for the night at least, you forget about everything else. It’s going out and staying out and trusting you’ll find a way home in the morning. A summer song in that it’s unrelenting, ‘Perfect Places’ is longing delayed. It’s the distraction of the heat, a friend’s warm back when she’s been dancing in spaghetti straps, another graceless night.
It’s hard not to get into this song. It’s got all the requisites for a pop hit: heavy bass, snare (is that a snare?), and a chorus that is easier to yell than sing. It’s good. I couldn’t help but immediately isolate the line “Meet somebody, take ’em home / Let’s kiss and then take off our clothes”. For some reason this line made me laugh when I first heard the song and made me laugh again when I listened for the tenth time just now. It’s an inconsequential line that would be on-brand for a lot of pop artists, but after the poetry of Pure Heroine such a straightforward description suddenly jumps out at you. I’m probably missing a deeper expression and reason for that lyric but until I learn what that is, I’ll laugh every time.
Listening to this while sitting at my desk at work, my left foot soaked through, some idle thoughts come to me; 1) I really need new sneakers without holes – I live in Auckland, and it rains. 2) What is with the rollout of Katy Perry’s new record? It feels like it’s been dragging for about 47 months, and the whiplash transition from dollhouse pop to some kind of fake-woke maturity feels just a little too calculated.
Lorde drops the f-bomb about a dozen times in this song. I like it. It is far more reminiscent of Pure Heroine than ‘Green Light’ or ‘Liability’, both lyrically and musically. It makes more sense as the second single than some of the other songs we’ve heard from her Coachella set. Will it be a hit? Glenn Campbell and an Elton John/Jack White collaboration play straight after Lorde on my Spotify “release radar” playlist, so I’m quite possibly the very last person in the world you should ask.
The Spinoff’s music content is brought to you by our friends at Spark. Listen to all the music you love on Spotify Premium, it’s free on all Spark’s Pay Monthly Mobile plans. Sign up and start listening today.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.