Kiwi born singer-songwriter Lorde (born Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, which tbh is a name so strong we’re not even sure why she felt the need to drop it) is back again for her third studio album, Solar Power. From her 2018 debut single and immediate smash hit Royals, to the unofficial 2017 Hot (Sad) Girl Summer anthem Green Light, Lorde has been on quite a musical journey since her rise to fame 8 years ago. So what did our writers make of her most recent musical offering? Only one way to find out…
Despite all our hoping, the promise of Hot Girl Summer never quite came true. When we first heard restrictions would be lifted in July, the online sphere blew up with everyone sharing their dreams of gorgeous debauchery in the sunshine. But when it finally rolled through, what we got was overcast, hazy, and lame. Thankfully, New Zealander and elusive onion ring reviewer Lorde has returned with Solar Power, which captures the subtle ennui of days in a golden glow.
This album follows a lacklustre response to the lead single and a unexpected yet powerful Hot Ones appearance. From both we get the message loud and clear: Lorde’s having fun this time round but this doesn’t stop her more existential ponderings.
The songs, though pleasant, never linger in the mind and there’s a series of thematic frustrations throughout. Lorde covers familiar territory like grappling with fame and giving wisdom to her younger self, but doesn’t draw new conclusions or the kind of emotional bite such topics deserve. It was hard not to wonder what a climate change anthem like Fallen Fruit could be with some of the power of Melodrama. None of this is helped by the melodies, which after a while seem to blur into each other. If it’s fun in the sun, let her have fun [producer] Jack Antonoff! Just enjoy it??
Dominoes and Big Star’s productions loosen up a bit with Wurlitzers and playful bass lines. Although some lines feel close to a Lorde parody, the heart at their centre eventually wins you round.
Oceanic Feeling is the standout single, clarifying so much of what Lorde is arguing for in this album by beautifully layering cicada sounds, muffled organs, bongo drums, and nearly Seinfeld-level bass. It zooms through the sky and cements the freedom of Lorde’s whole opus with such ease as to make the rest of the album seem sparse in comparison.
Ultimately, this album is at its best when its scope is self-evident. Song to song, you feel like you’re trading off aspects of interest and missing out on total cohesion. We’re all happy that Lorde’s happy but when moments of wider vision arise like on Mood Ring, Dominoes, or Robyn’s feature on Secrets From A Girl, you feel short changed.
That said, once Lorde gets her groove on, it’s hard to argue that you’re not transfixed… but you never feel totally drawn down the path, just stopping to smell the flowers.
Solar Power and I got off on the wrong foot.
Lorde’s bright, oozy songs did not play whilst I frolicked on an island drinking mojitos and wearing long floral skirts. It played on the M1, in the rain. This was the greyest, sweatiest, soupiest week of weather and it did not match the album at all.
I didn’t care about Lorde until I met my partner. Thanks to him, I now care a little bit and can sing along to Royals, Liability, the chorus of Solar Power and Dominoes. To prevent Jacob from being too disappointed in me I would like to dedicate this review to him. I enjoy Lorde and think she is:
- phenomenally cool
- an extremely talented singer songwriter
- clever with words
I downloaded Solar Power for my rainy car ride with moderate-to-high expectations. The radio had already introduced me to the singles (thank you Greg James), and I was intrigued by Stoned at the Nail Salon. Poetic lyrics are my weakness: “there’s a wishbone on the windowsill in my kitchen, just in case I wake up and realise I’ve chosen wrong”. Lorde’s lyrics are so sharp I feel personally attacked: “I thought I was a genius but now I’m twenty-two”? My heart nearly stopped.
The Man with the Axe is a track I’ll definitely be returning, if not just because it sounds like it the title of an interesting novel. Dominoes – why are those little stripped back interlude songs never long enough? – I can’t get out of my head, but otherwise I can’t say I was blown away. When listening through on my miserable car ride, I found that every so often a particularly poetic lyric, key change or bass riff would make me go ‘ooh, which song is this?’ but most of this album is a bit too easy to think over the top of. The mark of a good song is one I don’t want to miss a beat of, but I’d be content to let this album play in the background whilst I focus on something else.
I understand that Lorde is adored, and the hoards hungrily awaited this album. I also understand that any artist would struggle to live up to almost a 5-year gap between releases. Solar Power is enjoyable, sure, but we knew it would be good, didn’t we? And none of the songs makes my heart go squee! and wish I could step inside them.
Perhaps Solar Power didn’t find me at the right time, and perhaps my heart lies a little bit further towards stripped-back guitar and folksy poems. When I mentioned this to Jacob, he let me know it seems weird of me to wish this album was even more acoustic, and most people are in fact complaining this album is too stripped back compared to her other stuff. Well, not me. I’m Not Like Other Girls. I will personally be assuming that Lorde was imagining a far more acousticky, intimate style for this one, and the producers said ‘sorry we only have one setting and that is Lana Del Rey.’
A live version of the album would probably win me over, but this one doesn’t. Will you catch me singing along to these songs whilst I put my make-up on? Absolutely. Will you catch me weeping to it? Not a chance.
If you haven’t read anything about Solar Power since June, then you may be mistaken in thinking it’s the hippie-dippie, happy-go-lucky, goodbye-seasonal-affective-disorder album of the summer. Afterall, that seemed to be most people’s reactions to hearing the song’s first single and title track, an upbeat indie song full of folksy guitar and calls to “Lead the boys and girls onto the beaches.” It felt like Lorde had travelled a long way since the mournful Sad Party Girl anthems of 2017’s Melodrama, both sonically and thematically.
Oh, how little we knew! Skip to barely two months later, and here we have one of the ultimate Sad Girl Summer soundtracks to have ever graced Spotify. The perils of fame, climate anxiety, fears of aging, and deep, unshakeable grief all seem to make an appearance amongst the acoustic guitars, cicadas, and sounds of New York climate protests. Seriously, Taylor Swift’s folklore looks like a cheery celebration of existential joy in comparison, and that album features a song called My Tears Ricochet.
Yet, unlike Swift, Lorde hides the sorrow well below the surface of the album’s cover or it’s tracklisting. In fact, you may see titles such as California, Mood Ring and Stoned at the Nail Salon, and believe you’re about to listen to a 70s-inspired psychedelic pop record perfect for BBQs, picnics, road trips, and days at the beach. And while you may be correct about the sound of this record, it’s hard to completely switch off when one of the hooks is “I can’t feel a thing / I keep looking at my mood ring.”
Even when writing about the happiest parts of her life, Lorde also seems to be dwelling on her darkest moments. On The Man with the Axe, a love song to her boyfriend Justin Warren, she reflects on her stage fright and recalls a panic attack she had in front of the Norwegian Royal Family. Stoned at the Nail Salon sounds like it’s going to be a fun recollection about the time she smoked a joint before going to get her nails done, but then delivers some devastating reflections that “all the music you loved at sixteen, you’ll grow out of” and that one should “Spend all the evenings you can with the people who raised you / ‘Cause all the times they will change, it’ll all come around.”
The crux of the album is perhaps best captured on Big Star, a song dedicated to her late dog Pearl, with the pre-chorus acceptance that “every perfect summer’s gotta take its flight.” This isn’t the first time that Lorde seems to have been chasing the “perfect summer”, as she wrote a similar line for her 2017 song Liability (“But every perfect summer’s eating me alive until you’re gone”). As I said, this album might not be the best choice for a road trip or a picnic with friends. But if you’re beginning to feel the late August blues, haven’t had the Hot Girl Summer you planned, or are just feeling a bit shit about the weather, then it’s probably about time to give Solar Power a spin.