Lorde’s Solar Power is an airy body of work that refuses to stand in the long shadow cast by its predecessor.
“Forget all of the tears that you’ve cried / It’s over / It’s a new state of mind / Are you coming, my baby?”, sings Lorde on the first song she released since 2017. The heavily-anticipated single dodged every expectation following the brooding, heavily-synthesized Melodrama. Instead, it ushered Lorde in an era kissed by the summer sun, with a bunch of rooftop performances and, more anecdotally–but perhaps as impressive–a remarkable ability to withstand spicy food.
On “Solar Power”, Lorde wipes the slate clean with the help of a breezy guitar enhanced by a Rolling Stones-meets-George Michael swagger. It’s the closest she comes to elation on the whole album– an album that, despite breaking with past melancholy and obsession, basks more in contentment and serenity than it does euphoria.
Elsewhere, expect cicadas and blue-tinted vignettes of different times on a sunny day. Whether it’s the awe of a stupendous rising sun on “The Path”, the cool shade of a hot afternoon in “California” or the comforting beauty of dusk on “Oceanic Feeling”, Solar Power stays true to its word. Hell there’s even a track named after the sun.
As have many before her, Lorde has had to deal with the wear and tear caused by celebrity and acclaim. She recalls the “teen millionaire having nightmares from the camera flash” of the Pure Heroine days (Lorde was only sixteen when “Royals” came out) in “The Path”, questions the authenticity of industry ties and the glitz and glam of the scene in “California” and draws a parallel between the glory and dangers of the sun and fame in “Big Star”.
Those are certainly struggles not many of us can truly relate to but Lorde is self-aware enough that she steers clear of sounding ungrateful or bitter. She sings “I love this life that I have” on “Stoned at the Nail Salon” only to admit seconds later “But I wonder sometimes what I’m missing”. The track questions the choices she’s made to get at this crossroads, between the temptation of a tranquil life and the unparalleled thrills of the stage,–a tension best exemplified by her nod to Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game” (“I’d ride and I’d ride on the carousel / ‘Round and ‘round forever if I could”).
But the questioning never spirals into existential dread, unlike some of her contemporaries, including Billie Eilish in the recent Happier Than Ever. Eilish and Lorde both find that injecting some humour into the mix plays in their favour. Eilish’s playful scorn on “Therefore I Am” or the cheek of “NDA” are undeniably more in-your-face than the faux-inspirational tone of the dazzling “Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen it All)” or the satire of Gwyneth Paltrow GOOP-style wellness practices in radio-ready single “Mood Ring”, but the latter don’t go unnoticed either.
Solar Power combines Jack Antonoff’s (who executive produces along with Lorde) rock sensibilities–the likes we’ve already heard on this year’s St. Vincent and clairo records as well as his own Bleachers album–with the turn of the century pop Lorde claims as inspirations this time around. She channels pop staples Natalie Imbruglia in “Mood Ring” and Natasha Bedingfield on “Secrets from a Girl”, two of the brightest tracks on the album. Antonoff manages to sneak in a pinch of 60s psychedelia in both, imagining an era where Destiny’s Child and The Beatles play on the same bill.
The more off-the-cuff tracks on the album dispel the impression that every nook and cranny has been meticulously studied and curated. The album rendition of “Dominoes” sounds recorded on the roof of Electric Lady in Brooklyn, infamous New York ambulance sirens included. The diatribe against a former lover (who “used to do the most cocaine of anyone [she]’d ever met”) feels a lot like an afterthought, a track Lorde needed to get out of her system quickly to move on. It’s also the case with “The Man with the Axe”, dripping with melodies that run like water out the tap, impossible to catch, translucent and flavourless.
“Oceanic Feeling” is an appropriate send-off to an album that always finds its way back to appeasement no matter the subject at hand. Lorde questions her future with more curiosity than fear, looking back fondly at old habits she no longer needs with the maturity of experience. Out with the old, in with the new.
Lorde’s Solar Power is out now, and available to stream, download and purchase. Lorde will embark on a UK tour next summer, including a night at London’s Alexandra Palace. For a full list of dates and tickets head over here.
Feature image courtesy of Ophelia Mikkelson Jones