On Solar Power, Lorde really just wants us to go outside and touch some grass
Lorde (born Ella Yelich-O’Connor) is no stranger to change. Whether she’s going from angsty, black-clad nonconformist to performing explosive pop songs in arenas surrounded by neon lights and confetti, the one constant in Lorde’s career so far seems to be that there is no constant - unless you’re counting her consistently impressive, relatable songwriting. Now, she ushers in a new era, and with it, her most drastic changes yet.
Following a quiet 4-year hiatus from releasing music, the acclaimed pop-enchantress has returned with her third studio album, “Solar Power,” a record that trades the moody minimalism of 2013’s “Pure Heroine” and the kaleidoscopic volatility of 2017’s cult-favorite “Melodrama” for relaxed, sun-soaked reflections on fame, aging, nature and love.
On June 10, 2021, after much speculation that she would be ending her musical hiatus soon, Lorde sent an email to fans (her preferred means of communication since leaving social media) announcing the release of "Solar Power’s" title track and teasing the full album (released Aug. 20).
“There’s someone I want you to meet,” she wrote, setting the scene for the album and telling us what she’s been up to. “Her feet are bare at all times, She’s sexy, playful, feral, and free. She’s a modern girl in a deadstock bikini, in touch with her past and her future, vibrating at the highest level when summer comes around. Her skin is glowing, her lovers are many.”
"Solar Power’s" title track is a bold change of pace for the New Zealand singer-songwriter, featuring mostly acoustic guitar and drum instrumentals reminiscent of the bright, psychedelic folk of the 60s and 70s.
“Forget all of the tears that you’ve cried, it’s over,” Lorde sings on the track, shedding the anxieties and heartbreak that accompanied her prior bodies of work. After four years away, many fans likely weren’t expecting something so untroubled, but the carefree energy Lorde displays not only here but on the rest of the album is beyond refreshing.
Sultry, luscious album opener “The Path” functions as the perfect thesis statement for "Solar Power." On the track, Lorde recounts the terrors of her overnight “Royals” fame as well as stealing a fork from the Met Gala as a souvenir for her mom. Nowadays, though, she “won’t’ take the call if it’s the label or the radio,” as she declares on the track (and reiterates with the title track’s TikTok-able “Can you reach me? No, you can’t!”). Lorde’s message is simple: she doesn’t want to be your pop savior, she just wants to sit in the sun.
Lorde’s meditations on fame do not stop at “The Path.” On the breezy album highlight “California,” she reflects on her transformative time spent in the Golden State. “Once upon a time in Hollywood when Carole called my time/I stood up, the room exploded, and I knew that’s it, I’ll never be the same,” she says opening the track, referring to her 2014 Grammy win announced by Carole King. The track sees the singer saying goodbye to the bottles and the models, opting for a quiet life in her home country of New Zealand spent sunbathing with her friends. Following the opulent glitz and glamor of an album like Melodrama, “California” feels like a necessary addition to Lorde’s discography and is right at home on Solar Power.
Like several other female artists this year (namely Lana Del Rey on “Chemtrails Over The Country Club,” Clairo on “Sling” and Halsey on “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power”), Lorde explores the concepts of domesticity and settling into adulthood. On the previously released “Stoned at The Nail Salon,” the singer ruminates on whether she’s picked the right path for herself (“Got a wishbone drying on the windowsill in my kitchen/Just in case I woke up and realized I’ve chosen wrong"). The song stemmed from the existential thoughts the singer would have during her slower days in New Zealand. “What am I doing? Have I chosen right? Should I be partying more? Should I not? Should I be working?” Lorde said in the track’s Spotify storyline. Prior to Solar Power, ballads from Lorde were rare, and ballads about domestic confusion in her catalog were nonexistent - but “Stoned” serves as one of the album's best songs and one of its most tender moments.
In this era, Lorde has made her concerns with climate change and the environment very clear. “Solar Power” is not even available on CD. Instead, a “music box” takes the CD’s place. The music box is made from plastic-free packaging and does not contain an actual disc at all, but rather a high-quality download of the album alongside additional visual and written content. “I didn’t wanna make something that would end up in a landfill in 2 years,” she wrote in an email. “Fallen Fruit,” one of “Solar Power’s" most unique inclusions, is an anthemic call to climate action. Woozy guitars and one of Lorde’s signature 808 drums back her pleas and climate anxieties (“But how can I love what I know I am gonna lose?”).
On the summer-y single “Mood Ring,” Lorde takes a satirical approach to wellness culture. The track, which is sonically reminiscent of 2000s female pop artists like Natalie Imbruglia, Natasha Bedingfield and Nelly Furtado, sees Lorde critiquing the way many modern men and women appropriate practices like burning sage or try to appear much better than they actually are, mentally and spiritually (“Ladies begin your sun salutations/Transcendental in your meditations/You can burn sage and I’ll cleanse the crystals/We can get high, but only if the wind blows”).
While “Melodrama” saw Lorde heartbroken and vulnerable, "Solar Power" sees her falling in love again. The soft, sweet “The Man with the Axe” sees the singer in a much better place romantically than in the past, with someone who’s able to keep her grounded like a fresh-cut tree ("You felled me clean as a pine/The man with the axe and the look in his eyes/We’ve been through so many hard times/I’m writing a love song for you, baby"). Following “The Man with the Axe” is “Dominoes," a short, facetious look back on a former lover who knocks down every second chance like, well, dominoes.
The love on “Solar Power” isn’t just romantic, though. “Big Star” is an ode to Lorde’s beloved dog Pearl, who died last year. The track is a warm tearjerker that shines on the album, and the love that Lorde shares for Pearl in the song is infectious and relatable (“Baby, you’re a big star/Wanna take your picture/’Til I die"). Additionally, Lorde uses the exultant, near-7-minute album closer “Oceanic Feeling” to express her love for her family and her home country of New Zealand, as well as her future family (“In the future/If I have a daughter/Will she have my waist?/Or my widow’s peak?/My dreamer’s disposition or my wicked streak?"). “Oceanic Feeling” boasts timeless storytelling and sounds almost tropical on the production front, closing out the standard edition of the album perfectly.
Unlike “Pure Heroine” or “Melodrama” - albums that were ultra-refined and left no room for error - “Solar Power” feels ripped at the edges and loose, which doesn’t come to its detriment at all. The album faced its fair share of controversial criticism upon release, and while “Solar Power” isn’t quite Lorde’s best, it doesn’t seem like it’s trying to be. It’s evident that Lorde and Jack Antonoff (the album’s co-writer and co-producer, as well as Lorde’s close friend) had plenty of fun making the record, and no amount of backlash could change that. In its simplest form, “Solar Power” is Lorde telling us to go outside, and after cementing herself as one of our generation’s best artists she’s earned the right to do so.