Review: BØRNS Returns with Blue Madonna

by Sarah Schulte

BØRNS released his sophomore album Blue Madonna last month as the follow-up to 2015’s Dopamine. While Dopamine is a glam-rock anthem, Blue Madonna dives into the soul behind the pin-striped suits and floral print: Garrett Borns.

This isn’t to say that Dopamine was shallow; in fact, tracks such as Past Lives and The Emotion reveal a romantic rawness. However, Blue Madonna expresses vulnerability in a new and searching way.

God Save Our Young Blood kicks off the 12-track LP. The song features crooner Lana del Rey, whose voice weaves smoothly around Borns’s, easing listeners into a dreamlike trance of nostalgia.

Borns’s self-described “lamentation of [his] morality” follows in the pulsing Faded Heart. The song expresses the inter-connectivity of the universe and humankind and how that relates to one’s perception of themselves. Heavy stuff. Regardless, you won’t be able to get it out of your head for weeks. Borns seems to have tapped into an otherworldly concoction of vocals and instrumentation.

Sweet Dreams is whimsical heartbreak. Featuring a hooting owl and various percussive effects, the song sets the stage for a starry night and the smell of burning incense. The soaring but soft vocals push the heartbroken toward closure with the words, “Consider this a lullaby, Bye and sweet dreams.”

Reminiscent of the instrumentation of The Beatles’ Within You Without You and the lyricism of Bowie, Borns’ We Don’t Care is different from anything else on the album. The song transports listeners to a beach in 1967, utilizing classic guitar tones and fuzzed out bass. Lyrics like “Shake off the shadows, freak out the phantom’s love” point to Borns’s taste for science fiction magazines and adds a playful mysticism that goes beyond anything Borns has touched before.

Man uses keyboard synths and picturesque lyricism to send listeners on a journey around the world. If you’re looking for something to dance to, this is the track for you. This contrasts nicely with Iceberg, during which Borns’s vocals grip listeners with an almost a cappella moment. The metallic guitar is jarring but necessary against the smooth Stranger Things-esque synth riff. It’s perfectly weird.

Meanwhile, the trap-like Second Night of Summer expresses the feeling of being left by one’s lover and is likely to be an anthem for the broken-hearted this Valentine’s Day. I Don’t Want U Back is the fitting follow-up for those who have recently recovered from heartbreak. Despite its empowering message, this track falls short of the rest of the album and is easily the most forgettable. Similarly, Tension is a minute-thirty interlude that feels like it could have been something but never got the chance. The idea is there, but it would have been more effective as a completed piece of music.

Much like I Don’t Want U Back, Supernatural is a smooth ride that fails to leave an impression. While it’s pleasant to listen to, that’s about all there is to it. On the other hand, the title track Blue Madonna is a sensual joyride enhanced by Lana del Rey’s background vocals. The imagery will leave your mouth watering.

Bye-bye Darling is the most organic piece of music on the album, and it’s a suitable choice to finish it. It feels like the end of a coming-of-age film that just radically transformed your life. You’ve laughed, cried, realized something about the world, and now you’re hearing this song. It feels like an end, but it also feels like starting over. Time to hit replay?