Marina gets both personal and political in her fifth studio album, Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land, released on June 11, 2021. Ancient Dreams comes a long way from The Family Jewels, where Marina is caught between societal expectations and her personal desires. Ancient Dreams rejects these expectations, allowing Marina to be fully herself. Although Marina tackles themes such as feminism, global warming, misogyny, and racism, her most powerful message is one of self-love.
The upbeat electro-pop and dance-pop of Ancient Dreams rely on Marina’s tried-and-true sound, which has not radically transformed but instead matured throughout her career. Ancient Dreams provides a more intimate view of Marina, as she is the solo writer of the album and only worked with two producers, Jennifer Decilveo and James Flannigan.
The title track, “Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land,” calls back to the 1980s glam rock with its guitar riff and a steady percussive beat. The song mixes futuristic, almost robotic chants in the chorus with Marina’s operatic soft voice soaring above. The song is cinematic, like the opening scene of a picturesque landscape in an adventure film. Marina wastes no time defying societal norms, proclaiming, “You don't have to be like everybody else.” She sets the tone for the album urging the listener to ignore pressure to conform. She argues that the point of life is simply to live as one wants.
The message continues with “Venus Fly Trap,” a funk-influenced pop song with a repeating piano riff. The song swells and crests as each word is uttered in staccato. Like a wave, Marina slaps her listeners around, lulling them into a false sense of security and then pulling them around with each verse. Her lyrics are dripping with sass as she rhetorically asks why she should be a wallflower when she could embrace her flamboyant personality as a venus fly trap.
The first half of the album sees Marina at her most political, with songs such as “Man’s World,” “Purge the Poison,” and “New America.” “Man’s World” encapsulates the divine feminine with Marina’s dreamy voice fluttering like wispy clouds blowing in a summer breeze.
On the other hand, the guitar drives “Purge the Poison” and “New America,” accentuating the fury Marina feels towards sexism highlighted in MeToo and racial discrimination. Marina personifies a distressed Mother Nature in “Purge the Poison,” as the song accelerates to a crashing conclusion, coupled with an urgent clapping beat.
Meanwhile, “New America” takes on the sound of a horror story, with string pizzicato met with frantic cymbal clashes, and the crescendos of the backing vocals echoing like a ghostly wail. The song takes its inspiration from the murder of George Floyd to remind the listeners that America’s racial discrimination still haunts us. In these songs, Marina demonstrates how the patriarchy disregards feminine power, and how the treatment of women and the Earth are intrinsically related.
“Highly Emotional People” feels awkwardly out of place in the middle of an uptempo album, a rare instance of Marina’s charming mezzo-soprano imitating a shrill bird call instead of a Disney princess. The piano ballad drags in between two high-octane songs, and its message of vulnerability puts the listener to sleep instead of provoking thoughts on toxic masculinity.
The second half of the album mainly focuses on Marina’s introspective look as she moves on past broken hearts to find self-love within. Songs like “Pandora’s Box,” “I Love You But I Love Me More,” and “Flowers” capture the authenticity in sadness that “Highly Emotional People” lacks. Although they are piano ballads, synth-pop arrangements allow the songs to be melancholy without sounding like a teenager wallowing in a puddle of pity. The cello and flowing string arrangement in “Pandora’s Box” captures the acceptance of a deteriorating relationship while the guitar-led rock ballad, “I Love You But I Love Me More,” shows Marina finally refusing to compromise for shallow promises.
Ancient Dreams comes to a satisfying conclusion with one last final piano ballad, “Goodbye,” a twinkly sign-off to the listeners, heartbreak, and most importantly “to the girl that I was.” It is a bittersweet ending that comes after exploring societal injustices and personal pain, a realization that it is okay to miss who you were, but also the understanding that the path to progress and healing is by not looking back.
With its many themes, Ancient Dreams tries to do too much in its short 36 minutes. Songs like “Purge the Poison” and “New America” are powerful but also cover a lot of unrelated political topics in a brief period of time. Marina calls out GMOs and whitewashing history all in one breath and then moves along. In an attempt to name all of society’s diseases, Marina leaves little time for the listener to reflect on these issues.
Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land shows the messiness on the path to growth and self-love. Marina unabashedly loves herself in this album and calls on her listeners to do the same. Self-love defies all expectations of society, making it the most political act of all.