An R-rated children’s book.
That’s exactly how I would describe Melanie Martinez’s debut LP, Cry Baby. Released on Friday, Aug. 14 — almost a year and a half after the release of her Dollhouse EP — it tells the story of Cry Baby, a little girl character inspired by Martinez’s childhood.
And by “tells the story”, I mean tells the story. The physical CD version of the album actually comes with a storybook illustrated by artist Chloe Tersigni.
Sure, it sounds a little silly at first. But by having the storybook, you really understand the beautiful storyline Martinez has created through the juxtaposition of childhood concepts with very mature situations.
It’s for this reason that I’m going to review it track by track. Sure, I could just talk about how much I loved the album. There are so many things to admire about each track, though, that settling for an average review really wouldn’t do it any justice.
Especially since after listening to the album for a week, I couldn’t wait to read the book. While each song definitely told a story of its own, I just couldn’t piece the storyline together. After finally finding a time to pick up a physical copy — the digital download could only satisfy me for so long — and getting about halfway through the book, though, it all started to make complete sense.
Just a disclaimer before we begin: this is my interpretation of the story. I strongly recommend purchasing your own copy of the physical album to not only support Martinez but also expose yourself to the beautiful rhymes and images that really enhance this album experience.
And a suggestion as we progress: listening to each track before reading my commentary really allows for you to interpret the songs in your own way. Don’t just let me tell you what I think. I’d love to know what your thoughts are.
Now that that’s out of the way, here we go. It’s about time you meet Cry Baby.
Every good story starts with an introduction. This one is done in part over the crying of a rather rhythmic child. Mix this with a bit of synthesized bells, and you’ve got the perfect instrumental to familiarize you with the little girl Martinez has chosen to write about.
To put it bluntly, Cry Baby is exactly what her name implies: a girl who cries a lot. But how could she not when her heart’s too big for her body? What’s worse, that too-big heart has replaced her brain, causing her to lose all her friends. It’s not that big of a deal, though. It’s not her; it’s them … and she “don’t fucking care.”
And as you find out in the bridge — the first real display of Martinez’s amazing vocal range — neither does Martinez. It’s in this song that she establishes her connection to Cry Baby: “I look at you, and I see myself, and I know you better than anyone else,” letting you know that you’re about to listen to some really personal stuff.
And whether the introduction of Cry Baby (aka Martinez) is that of the antagonist or the protagonist is up for you to decide, but only once you’ve made your way through the album. So let’s keep going.
Ah, the first screwed up setting of this tragic story. It’s also the first song with a music video — and a great one, at that — though Martinez plans to create one for every song on the album.
In this track, the story is told over similar bells, some snaps and a ticking clock, which creates a rather calming rhythm. It’s ironic, considering the lyrics are anything but.
Here’s the deal: Cry Baby spends her time trying to wake up a passed-out-drunk mom to tell her that a) her husband is having an affair, and b) her son is a stoner. Pretty bad situation for this little girl to be in, right? Mhm.
That’s not the main message of the song, though. While all of this stuff goes down behind closed doors, everyone they know has no idea. As if a tribute to Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” Martinez sings: “Everyone thinks that we’re perfect / please don’t let them look through the curtains.”
Clearly, life for Cry Baby kinda sucks. Just remember this as we continue on.
Remembering is important, especially since the “Sippy Cup” video is the sequel to “Dollhouse.”
Soothing synths, muffled claps and prolonged pours combine to not only explain Mom’s decisions but also bring light to what went down in the kitchen.
If your home life was a mess, you’d want to find a way to distract yourself, right? Well, that’s what Cry Baby’s mom did. The thing is, though, to hide the fact that she's drowning her sorrows in alcohol, she pours it into one of Cry Baby’s sippy cups.
Does that change the truth of the matter? Nah. Nice try, mom. “Blood still stains when the sheets are washed. Sex don’t sleep when the lights are off.”
As for the mystery of the kitchen, you’ll have to watch the video to find out. Let’s just say too much alcohol makes you do crazy things … things that will probably scare your kids away from your house.
Enough to have them end up at the carnival? Oh, you bet.
Quick aside: if you recognize this track, you probably heard it on the American Horror Story: Freak Show trailer.
Now cue the first non-obnoxious accordion I've heard in a while (sorry, Tío Tito). Simultaneously cue the story of the first time Cry Baby fell in love.
Awwww, it happened at a carnival. It's very cute and very sweet until you realize that her feelings are not shared: "Will I catch up to love? I can never tell."
In her defense, I can't either. But that's beside the point, mainly because the boy she fell in love with and I are pretty much the same person.
As narcissistic as it sounds, it's true: I share a personal connection with this song because I am the Alphabet Boy. This isn't to say I broke a girl's heart (because I didn't), but I did win three school spelling bees (humble brag) and loved every second of it.
This also isn't to say that I'm Alphabet Boy to the "T" (ha, ha, ha) because we do differ, especially in the sense that I know "apples aren't always appropriate apologies."
The use of kindergarten imagery in this track makes it one of my favorites. What's more, the cute stuttering sounds (which are enhanced in cuteness by the fact that they're the first syllables of the words in the title) and the constant use of the word "fuck" among otherwise-innocent lyrics earn it an A+ rating in my book.
So, now that you know some more about me, back to the storyline: to put it bluntly, it's one of Cry Baby's "I'm-so-done-with-you" songs. She finally realizes the boy from the carnival wasn't "the one" and starts to get over him.
And with that, it's "buh-buh-buh"-bye to "Alphabet Boy" and hello to "Soap."
With this song comes the best bubble breakdown ever. By this I mean exactly what you read: the (surprisingly catchy) sound of popping bubbles breaks up the great verses.
At this point in time, Cry Baby has found a new boy to focus her affection on. The problem this time? She's become too attached too fast and is afraid she'll screw it up. In the end, she becomes "tired of being careful, gentle, trying to keep the water warm." How does she solve this? By washing her mouth out with soap, of course.
Now, you're probably thinking that this is ridiculous. Think about it, though. The word "love" is something that you should wait to use at the right time. And as you'll see in the next track, it's not the only thing worth waiting for.
If the first thing that came to mind when reading the last sentence was sex, don't worry. You're not a pervert. It's exactly what Martinez and I are getting at.
It's another really cute track, really. Over an innocent little tune Cry Baby explains that she's ready to move her relationship to the the next level. Disregarding the fact that she's still a child, I absolutely love it when she states, "I wanna make you mine but that's hard to say," and proceeds to ask "is this coming off in a cheesy way?"
No, Cry Baby, it's adorable. You do you, girl. Take those training wheels off.
This is not me in any way, shape or form condoning underage sex. I just figured I'd try and give you guys some hope that there's a happy ending before things start riding downhill.
Prepare yourself. It's about to become a bumpy ride.
If you recall, we established from the beginning that Cry Baby no longer has friends. Therefore, it shouldn't be a surprise that no one came to her birthday party, right? Well, just try telling that to Cry Baby herself.
Sad and disappointed (especially since even her new boy-toy didn't show up), she samples Lesley Gore's "It's My Party" and reiterates that it's her party and she'll cry if she wants to. The whole time, though, she's trying to find an explanation for this occurrence: "Maybe it's a cruel joke on me? Whatever, whatever." In the end, though, she consoles herself by deciding that it just means there's way more cake for her.
And hey, cake is always a good thing (especially if consumed the way it is in the video)... that is, unless it's from strangers.
That sounded menacing because it was supposed to.
"Tag, You're It" starts with an instrumental that could be described as an eerier version of Lady Gaga's "Telephone." The story being told has nothing to do with going out with your girls and having fun in the club, though.
Martinez uses a monster voice alteration — revealed to be a wolf ice cream man — to further expand on the idea that she was kidnapped on the way home one day: "Running through the parking lot, he chased me and he wouldn't stop."
Though the theme of the song itself is pretty awful, it's definitely another one of my favorites on the album. The combination of nursery rhymes and such a dark premise makes for several interesting plays on words which I really can't help but love.
The song ends with a very distorted, Rugrats-esque sound. It kind of just dies out. It's the perfect transition since it not only represents the end of Cry Baby's innocence but the beginning of a darker period in her life.
Yes. She used milk and cookies to kill the wolf-man and get away. Wouldn't you?
Since that basically summarizes the event in this "chapter," let me side track and talk about the structure for a second. Martinez tells the story by counting to 12 and the rhymes for the even numbers are overall really genius: "two" and "you"; 'four" and "door"; "six" and "this"; "eight" and "late"; "10" and "again" and "12" and "well". I mainly commend her for doing this because I've been waiting for a song that starts off counting to end in the same manner for a really, really long time. The closest that has come to this in my musical spectrum is Marina and the Diamonds with "How To Be A Heartbreaker."
And I'd say that that's enough of that, especially since Cry Baby gets away and pretty much starts ruining other people's lives.
It starts with another boy she meets. The problem with this one is that he currently has a girlfriend, but that's not to say it stops him from flirting — though it could easily be inferred that it was more than that — with Cry Baby.
She doesn't care, though: "Someone told me stay away from things that aren't yours. But was he yours if he wanted me so bad?"
Clearly, Cry Baby has become the type of girl who has no regard for others.
No regard whatsoever, especially when she doesn't agree with what others are saying.
That's what this amazing song is about. After seeing a celebrity (who Martinez has given the name of "Mrs. Potato Head", inspired by the popular '90s toy) who enjoys getting plastic surgery because it makes her feel more beautiful, Cry Baby decides that pain is not beauty, and she's fine the way she is.
Overall, the message is a truly comforting one. Martinez condemns the use of cosmetic surgery by making the song appear as an advertisement ("just be sure to read the warning, kids"; "all you need is more condiments, and a hundred thousand dollars for some compliments"). Both verses provide the reasons why getting work done sounds like a good idea, sarcastically reiterating the fact that "no one will love you if you're unattractive." This is then questioned in the chorus: "Oh, Mrs. Potato Head, tell me. Is it true that pain is beauty? Does the new face come with a warranty? Will a pretty face make it better?" The "ha-ha's" after each selling point also show just how against this process Cry Baby is.
It's Martinez's favorite. It's my favorite, too, for obvious reasons. The tune is extremely catchy, the rhyming and rhythm of the words are slightly eccentric and the message is as right as can be. What more could you want?
A bit of insanity, perhaps. That's probably what Martinez was thinking when she wrote "Mad Hatter".
Maybe she’s actually insane. Maybe she just loves “Alice in Wonderland” (who could blame her?). Maybe she just wanted to conclude the regular version of Cry Baby on a crazy note. Regardless, this track is completely bonkers and I can’t help but to blast it when I drive to work.
You find out at this point that Cry Baby has basically lost her shit and has no sense of reality. And what’s more? She doesn’t care: “So what if I’m crazy? The best people are.”
I’ve never heard more synonyms for “crazy” in one song and that’s what makes this one so spectacular for me. And that’s all I have to say. It’s nuts, it’s mad, it’s pure perfection.
And if you’re listening to the regular edition of Cry Baby, that’s the end. Cry Baby explains she’s insane and that she’s more than content with it. If you’re listening to the deluxe edition, though, her story continues.
A disclaimer: The storybook doesn’t explain the three bonus tracks, so from here on out, this is solely my own interpretation.
As we progress, we see that Cry Baby has completely left the past behind. She has become close with a boy that constantly invites her over for “play dates.” It’s no big deal, though. Tough ol’ Cry Baby pretends that she doesn’t care that he only wants to “play” with her: “I don’t give a fuck about you anyway. Whoever said I gave a shit about you?”
The song goes on to describe their (rather cute-sounding) escapades. Again and again the declaration of not caring is made… until it concludes with “You know I give a fuck about you every day. I guess it’s time that I tell you the truth.”
Boom. The tables have turned. Cry Baby has fallen in love… again. And it’s going to be nothing but another mistake.
So… here’s the deal: Cry Baby falls in love with Teddy. His name is actually unknown but due to the name of the track… I think it’s pretty obvious why this was chosen. Basically, it all started off nice and sweet and they were very happy. Then, though, everything just went to hell.
Slow drums set a rather mysterious mood, which allows for the slow building of the storyline. Love. Hearts. Sleep talk. Knives. Cut up pictures. It’s at this point in time that Cry Baby starts questioning her safety… and rightfully so: “I’m in despair. Should I be scared?”
At one point, she decides to leave this guy, but that doesn’t stop him from breaking into her house and stalking her. Creepy, right?
Oh yeah. But it’s okay because she gets away and realizes that she’s worth more than she used to think.
Another boy enters the picture and – once again – he doesn’t reciprocate the same feelings. At this point, Cry Baby’s had her fair share of this crappy cake. She wants to be more than just something for this guy to enjoy. Otherwise, she’ll show him how she can feel: “If I’m just a piece of cake, then you’re just a piece of meat.”
It’s great, mainly because this is how everyone should feel. Don’t be just a piece of cake to them. Be the whole damn bakery… and make sure you know it.
And that’s how Cry Baby’s journey comes to an end… at least, until you decide you want to listen to it again. Which I can guarantee you will.
I’ve been playing this album nonstop since its release. And sure, you could say this review is a little biased. The thing is, though, I had super high expectations after the release of the Dollhouse EP. And to my surprise, Martinez completely broke through the dollhouse’s roof and released my second-favorite album of 2015.
“This album is for anyone who feels their heart is bigger than their body, and anyone who considers themself a bit of a cry baby,” Martinez said at the end of her album dedication.
So after all of this, I guess you could call me a Cry Baby.
“I don’t fucking care.”
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