Album Review: Lorde – Solar Power
Caitlin Barr reviews Lorde’s latest album, Solar Power.
After a four-year hiatus, Lorde is back with an album full of pensive, serene tracks. Almost the antidote to 2017’s booming masterpiece Melodrama packed with songs about hedonism and doomed love affairs, Solar Power ushers in a new era of Lorde: an era of subduing old demons, starting afresh, and contemplating what is to come. She looks to the future while questioning her past, one that we have been privy to since her first single, Royals, hit the charts when she was just a month off 17. In many ways, it’s no wonder she took such a long break – she’s been in the limelight since 2013. Solar Power is a reckoning not only with Lorde’s history, but with the future of her own life and that of the planet, too.
The album’s three singles encompass the overall tone of the project. ‘Solar Power‘, what I would describe as the album’s only banger in the most basic sense of the word, oozes with beach party vibes, and feels like a long breath out after eighteen months of isolation and disappointment. In its music video, dancers frolic around the singer resplendently dressed in bright yellow, claiming to be a ‘prettier Jesus’ – perhaps a comment on her cult-like fanbase who have been counting down the days until she released a new album. ‘Stoned at the Nail Salon‘ couldn’t be much more different. With pared-back vocals and hazy piano, Lorde eulogises summers past, getting tangled up in memories while giving a glimpse of her new, calmer life – ‘the vine hangin’ over the door/And the dog who comes when I call’. Her new-found stability may be tranquil, but it seems to leave her wanting – she longs to ‘cool it down’ but doesn’t quite know what that looks like. ‘Mood Ring‘ is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at the wellness industrial complex, with mentions of sun salutations, sage, and crystals. Lorde herself has described the track as a ‘satirical but extremely empathetic attempt to understand’ these types of practices. Overall, the track is a dreamy psych-pop tune with sly references to colonial capitalism, with the music video depicting white women draped across each other in a tepee-like space.
Another stand out track is ‘Big Star‘, possibly my favourite on the album. Lorde revealed that the emotive song is about her dog, Pearl, who passed away while she was working on Solar Power. Strings and Lorde’s plaintive vocals give the track a very tender feel, while the lyrics capture a life made better by a four-legged friend. ‘Leader of a New Regime‘ is a sardonic glimpse of the end of the world, with its persona leaving her home with ‘Simone, and Celine/And of course, my magazines’. Yellich-O’Connor spent part of her hiatus in Antarctica, which undoubtedly gave her a deeper understanding of the climate crisis unfolding across our planet. The track references wearing SPF 3000, alluding to the ever-rising heat, and imagines a future in which our habitat is uninhabitable. It’s a sobering reminder of what is actually going on while we sit on the beach, get high and burn sage. ‘Fallen Fruit‘ picks up on this theme, with lyrics about Nissans and planes and past generations squandering the Earth’s resources. Lorde said of the track ‘I had been very careful before that point about not being preachy or like, “Hi, I’m a pop star and this is my climate change album!” But I just had this moment where I was like, “This is the great loss of our lives and this will be what comes to define all of our lives and our world will be unrecognisable for my children.”’.
One criticism I’ve seen levelled at Solar Power is that there aren’t enough bangers. And, just to be clear, part of me agrees. Fans of Lorde, myself included, are used to the dizzying pop machine that was Melodrama, and Pure Heroine before it. Solar Power is far more low-key. But what’s so special about it is its detail – Phoebe Bridgers, Robyn and Clairo’s backing vocals, for example. Its message, too, one of care for our planet but also ourselves. A sense of having worked on oneself for years, but still feeling familiar sadness creeping in and not being sure why. The pandemic has forced many of us to change, and Solar Power seems to answer to that. Clubs have been closed, so we haven’t been able to party like we used to. Maybe Solar Power is the album we need in this era of changing relationships with our planet and ourselves. Are these songs you’ll stick on to soundtrack your next house party? Probably not. But that’s not the point. These are songs for sunrises, for walking home alone and having a big think, for swimming in the sea with friends, for the dogs we love and the new habits we don’t. In short, Solar Power is about change, and after 18 months of it, perhaps a reckoning with our shifting selves is what we need.