God save our young blood: a “Blue Madonna” review

BØRNS’ newest record reinforces his signature brand of glam pop while taking more of an influence from Lana Del Rey.

The official cover for BØRNS’ “Blue Madonna.” (Interscope Records)

Garrett Borns’ debut album “Dopamine” is the ultimate tribute to the sticky glam pop of ages past. The singer-songwriter, better known by his stage name BØRNS, knew what he was doing on that record: glorifying love and painting intoxicating girls in sweeping strokes. Add to that some funky guitar grooves and the fluidity found in ’80s pop, and it all came together in a rich and evocative experience in the fall of 2015.

However, I forgot about him and that record until he released a new single this past summer. “Faded Heart” brought back those memories of excellent songs like “10,000 Emerald Pools” and “Electric Love,” but there were hints of differences in his sound. The faster speed, the chunkier guitar riff and a hopeful exuberance instead of the swaggering confidence I had expected from “Dopamine” all intrigued me. What would come with this second album?

My answer: pretty much the same. “Blue Madonna” is a more refined “Dopamine,” and it leads to listeners hearing more emotions from him. Whether it’s the petty dejection post-break-up, the exhilaration of a love hidden below the surface or the happiness found in living it up with a new flame, their presence grounds this album’s extravagant figurative language in a way “Dopamine” lacked. As a result, it becomes more memorable. There are even lines here that remind me of Lana Del Rey, so if BØRNS wants to embrace her characteristics to become her counterpart going forward, that would be pretty cool.

“Blue Madonna” … grounds [itself in] extravagant figurative language in a way “Dopamine” lacked.”

— Luke Reynolds

(Interscope Records)

Speaking of Del Rey, she shows up on two tracks on this album. The opener “God Save Our Young Blood” and the title track feature her vocals, and she gives both her ethereal other-worldliness that’s always hard to describe. It’s a good thing the former is pretty simple: it’s the sun-drenched testament to glorious young love. The lyrics are made up of abstract details that cement the power of this relationship where “[they] see nothing but the green lights.” It’s powerful and bewitching and dreamy and just what this type of track needs.

“Blue Madonna” does that route more seductively, clicks adding to the smooth keyboard line and BØRNS using more explicit imagery that calls back to singer Madonna (“Just want to make her feel like a virgin, a version of herself that she once knew”). Del Rey provides a haunting outro about becoming “cherry red,” fueled with lust and ready to succumb to pleasure. It’s the dirtiest this album gets and shows BØRNS doesn’t want to just focus on the purity of relationships. There’s also the sexual tension and gratification that comes when desire is unleashed.

(Interscope Records)

Those glorifications of love aren’t the only content BØRNS provides on the record, though. There’s the hopeful prayer of avoiding heartbreak on the jagged “Faded Heart,” the bitter anger after a relationship falls apart on the smooth “Sweet Dreams” and the glitchy “Second Night of Summer,” the bends of apocalyptic celebration on “We Don’t Care” and “Man” and the times when all of that is acknowledged as what it is. This is especially true on one of the highlights of the record, “I Don’t Want U Back.” It falls into the vein of those upset break-up songs, one where the discovery of a girlfriend cheating on their partner tore apart the relationship. But despite BØRNS’ stubborn insisting that “[he sleeps] better than every night [she laid] next to [him],” he’s not completely over her. “Another Friday night” arrives, and when the two of them catch eyes, “[his] heart nearly [busts].” That line perfectly captures the lingering power of love. No matter how much we insist we’ve moved on, sometimes that old flame who was unfaithful still takes us aback and drags us into another spiral.

(Interscope Records)

It also helps that the production takes a step back and sounds like the perfect slice of nostalgic pie. The lull of the keyboards found on “Sweet Dreams” glides across sputtering percussion, reminiscent of a car making its way through the interstate on a late summer night. The sleek gloss of the convertible glowing as the streetlights hit it just so comes to mind, and it gives me the impression I’ll be playing this album on a long drive while I’m on break. This could very well be the soundtrack for vacationing.

(Interscope Records)

But despite my enjoyment, there are nitpicks that irk me. The last third of the album isn’t nearly as strong as the lead-up to it. “Tension (Interlude)” builds up a little punch, but “Supernatural,” “Blue Madonna” and “Bye-bye Darling” feel like filler and retreads of the rest of the album’s beats. Despite the title track’s sensuality and the romantic lull of “Bye-bye Darling,” the final song makes the album end on an anticlimax. BØRNS tries to allude to the end of “the paperback age,” a relationship no longer face to face. He insists everything’s “gonna be just fine,” but it comes across as cloying and disingenuous. Then just when the song ends, it starts back up again on a new chorus. “What we had, they’ll never know,” BØRNS coos over staccatos of piano notes, and it begs several questions. Is BØRNS really not over this relationship? Is he just pettily digging into his ex’s heart? Was it a private situation he enjoyed but won’t end up remembering? What gives?

Besides that weak last third, “Blue Madonna” is a glamorous album that captures the hyperbole and extravagance of pop of a long-ago era. If you enjoy Lana Del Rey, give BØRNS a spin. Perhaps you’ll find the magic from her records spun in the melodies of his.

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